- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2010

A potentially divisive challenge to incumbent North Carolina Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell from the left fizzled out late last week when challenger Wendell Fant said he would not launch an independent bid for the seat.

The decision by Mr. Fant, a former Kissell staffer, marks the second unsuccessful attempt by a union-backed effort called North Carolina Families First to oust Mr. Kissell. Liberal and labor groups had been particularly upset by the freshman Democrat’s vote against President Obama’s health care overhaul plan earlier this year

The group - backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union and its local affiliate - first attempted to create an independent party to run candidates against Mr. Kissell and two other moderate Democrats, Reps. Mike McIntyre and Health Shuler. All three opposed the final health care bill. But backers failed to collect the requisite 85,000 votes to form a third party.

However, the group managed to collect at least 17,000 valid signatures to put Mr. Fant on the ballot. The group cannot substitute another candidate for Mr. Fant.

Mr. Fant reportedly said he wanted to “put my family ahead of my own political ambitions.” He had until Friday to file his paperwork and pay his fee to the state.

His decision not to run sets up a two-man race between Mr. Kissell and Republican candidate Harold Johnson for the 8th District seat. The TV sportscaster defeated “tea party”-backed candidate Tim D’Annunzio in a runoff vote Tuesday and Republicans think they have a good chance of winning the seat.

State Democratic Party leaders did not support the union effort, fearing that Mr. Fant could have taken away votes from Mr. Kissell in the general election.

Mr. Fant, an Iraq war veteran, resigned from Mr. Kissell’s office last month amid reports he used his House computer to do personal business, including monitor a claim with the Veterans Affairs Department. Mr. Fant acknowledged he should have done things differently, but said he was not trying to use his political position to influence his application.

As the petition drive neared successful close, Mr. Kissell filed a House ethics complaint against Mr. Fant.

In dropping out of the race, Mr. Fant said Mr. Kissell has “heard the message” and begun to shift his voting record to reflect the interests of his constituents in the district.

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