When the House passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act on Nov. 7, Kissell was among 39 Democrats who voted no. Like Kissell, many of them are endangered freshmen from traditionally conservative districts, trying to appeal to conservatives and independents.(More after the jump...)
Still, Kissell's vote is perplexing considering the need for health-care reform here in the largely rural 8th Congressional District. The district, at the heart of the state's weakened textile industry, stretches from Charlotte to Kannapolis to Fayetteville and was shedding manufacturing jobs even before the recession.
Now, about 20 percent of residents younger than 65 have no health insurance -- among the highest rates in the nation -- and the bill would provide coverage to about 85,000 who are uninsured, according to a congressional analysis of census data.
Kissell said that he sides with his party on the vast majority of votes and supports expanding coverage, but that he voted against the bill because it would have cut about $399 million from Medicare to find savings. He said he was not willing to renege on his campaign promise never to cut Medicare funding.
"My line in the sand is Medicare," Kissell said in an interview. "One of the things that's missing in people's trust factor is people keeping their word. Whether I win or lose, I've got to look at myself in the mirror the next day, and a word that's important to me is integrity."
Like most members of Congress, he has been deluged with calls, e-mails and letters from constituents, which his office said ran about even through August -- when opponents of the health-care effort became more organized nationwide. Since then, his office said, correspondence from constituents has come in about 2 to 1 against the legislation.
What Kissell considers a principled stand over Medicare, some of his constituents view as a classic Washington betrayal. And his vote threatens to fray the coalition that propelled him to victory. Many Democrats here gave him money and knocked on doors for him because they saw in him a break with the partisanship of Robin Hayes, his Republican predecessor.
In one vote, that sense of possibility was dashed, as many local party leaders said they think Kissell has become transformed by the sometimes dirty business of governing and the compromising quest for reelection.
"They feel betrayed," said June Mabry, chairman of the state Democratic Party's 8th District. "They're not expecting him to be an absolute puppet, but this is a watershed vote for the United States."And there's the rub. The base voted Kissell into office to get health care reform. They're not going to give a damn about him if he doesn't deliver. The Republicans and teabaggers were never going to vote for him anyway. They'll run their own guy.
Blue Dogs will go down in flames in 2010, and it's nobody's fault but their own.