- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Two years ago, Republican David Rouzer lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre by just 654 votes - a razor-thin margin of 0.2 percent among the nearly 337,000 ballots cast.

With McIntyre announcing his retirement after nine terms representing North Carolina’s 7th Congressional district, Rouzer is back on the ballot with hopes of reversing his 2012 disappointment. Opposing him in the May 6 Republican primary are Woody White and Chris Andrade.

On the Democratic side, New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield and retired Smithfield police officer Walter A. Martin, Jr., are running to succeed McIntyre. Wilmington lawyer Wesley Casteen is running as a Libertarian.

National Republican leaders see the district as a prime opportunity to extend the party’s majority in the U.S. House.

Even though he was the incumbent, McIntyre’s re-election victory two years ago was considered an upset after the state’s Republican-dominated legislature had redrawn the district lines to cut out heavily Democratic precincts in Wilmington and Lumberton.

There are now about 32,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the 7th district, but a large block of unaffiliated voters have been trending increasingly conservative in recent elections. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district, 59 percent to 40 percent over President Obama in 2012.

Rouzer, 42, voted for those new district lines as a two-term state senator and is a resident of Republican-leaning Johnston County, which was added to the district.

Rouzer’s political resume includes stints on the Capitol Hill staffs of former U.S. Sens. Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole. He also was appointed by President George W. Bush as an associate administrator of rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he helped oversee a $1.2 billion loan program.

If elected, Rouzer has said he will pursue the traditional Republican goals of cutting taxes, reducing government regulations on business and working to dismantle Obama’s health care overhaul. He said voters can look at his voting record from the state Senate to see what he would do in Washington.

“I have a stellar conservative record for people to look at,” Rouzer said. “Everything I championed in the state legislature - welfare reform, regulatory reform, cutting taxes, cutting spending - are the same things I’ll focus on at the federal level.”

White, 44, is a Wilmington lawyer and the chairman of the New Hanover Board of Commissioners. He also served to fill an expired term in the N.C. Senate in 2004.

In reports filed last week, Rouzer’s campaign reported raising $732,164 and White raised $359,196 - far outpacing all the other candidates.

On the campaign trail, White has touted himself as a conservative family man with deep roots in the district. Taking a page from McIntyre’s playbook from two years ago, White has attacked Rouzer for working as a lobbyist and accused his opponent of supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

The attacks are rooted in Rouzer’s 2007 support for a guest worker program supported by North Carolina farmers, who rely on migrant labor to harvest crops, and his lobbying for the U.S.-based affiliate of Japan Tobacco Inc., a private company in which the Japanese government is a major shareholder.

“There are people in my district paying taxes and benefits for people who broke the law and jumped to the front of the line and got into our country illegally,” White said.

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