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Labor drafting lefty challenger to conservative House Democrat

Potentially setting up another high-profile clash between the left and the Dem establishment, one of the most powerful unions in the country is privately enlisting a candidate to challenge conservative Dem Rep. Larry Kissell of North Carolina, who infuriated labor with his opposition to heath reform.

The effort is meant to mirror Bill Halter's ongoing labor-fueled challenge to Blanche Lincoln. If successful, it could further the left's efforts to reshape the political landscape by holding Dems accountable for straying from core Dem priorities.

The Service Employees Intenational Union has privately reached out to Wendell Fant, an Iraq War vet, who used to work for Kissell, and is now in the process of collecting signatures to get him on the ballot as an independent, SEIU spokesperson Lori Lodes confirms.

Union chiefs have discussed the race with Fant. A source says Fant indicated he's interested in running if the union successfully collects the more than 16,000 signatures needed to get him on the ballot, though it's not certain he will.

Fant's interest in challenging Kissell has previously been reported locally, but it hasn't gotten national attention. What's more, the SEIU is now much more directly involved in the race, making it far more likely that he'll actually get on the ballot.

Fant couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Interestingly, this move could split the Dem vote and result in the seat being thrown to the GOP. But the union seems determined to hold up a few Dems as examples of what can happen if they betray core liberal principles.

Other labor threats to primary Dems who opposed health reform have fizzled, and a lot could go wrong. The signatures could fail to materialize. Fant could back out. But if Fant does make the race it seems likely that the contest will attract netroots and media interest, and spark another round of debate about the left's ongoing clash with the Dem establishment.

By Greg Sargent  |  May 24, 2010; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  2010 elections , House Dems  
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Why would they try to run an independent against a democrat? Did their primary pass already? I can't imagine the SEIU would get the same support for Fant as they did for Halter

Posted by: SDJeff | May 24, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

SDJeff -- probably not the same level of support but it's only a House race. they want to take this guy out even if it ends up tossing a seat to the GOP

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 24, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Is somebody else writing your comments or editing them? Because I don't recognize your voice in this at all.

Posted by: Beeliever | May 24, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

beeliever, do you mean the post or the comment?

either way, it's all me. no help. this is a straight newsy post

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 24, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Oh ok, gotcha.
I wouldn't mind getting out of the south today. :)

Even here in crazy-a$$ Texas, Ron Paul couldn't win the Senate seat...although I am not sure he is worse than Cornyn or Perry.

Posted by: Beeliever | May 24, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I could have added this to the prior thread but it's a morass of high passions and isn't dissimilar from some earlier threads where Palin fans attended.

In any case, I thought this Politico excerpt was notable...

"Paul, who canceled a planned appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” after a week of tough coverage, seems to have switched to a more disciplined approach: get off national TV, focus on Kentucky and stay on message.

That's in part because senior Republicans have told him to do so.

Karl Rove, the former top adviser to George W Bush, called Paul's campaign manager this week and said the candidate was hurting himself with all the exposure, according to a source familiar with the conversation (In an email, Rove only said "no comment" when asked about the matter)"

Well, we knew that was happening in the background, didn't we?

Posted by: bernielatham | May 24, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

It's a shame that labor no longer has enough power to actually elect a candidate in most parts of the country. I understand their frustration. But I still fail to see how working to replace people whom they think don't agree with them enough of the time with people who are actively hostile to everything they stand for helps their cause.

Posted by: CalD | May 24, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

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