(Part of UPI's Special Report on Election 2002)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (UPI) -- Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., faces a strong challenge from political newcomer Chris Kouri, a Charlotte lawyer and former pro football player, in a closely watched race in the North Carolina 8th Congressionl District.
Hayes' district, which covers 10 counties, was redrawn by the Democrat-led state legislature after the 2000 Census. The new district, which stretches from west Fayetteville to northern and eastern sections of Charlotte, is seen as more favorable for Democrats than the old one. It's an area at the heart of the textile industry, and is near Fort Bragg, a major Army post and headquarters of the 82nd Airborne.
Hayes, a textile mill owner, has had to explain a yes vote he cast giving the president fast-track authority in trade negotiations in a district that has seen a lot of jobs go overseas.
Kouri has criticized Hayes for his trade vote, and has been actively courting union support. But Hayes says the vote last December was intended to save jobs in related fields.
About 33,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the textile-dependent 8th District since 1999.
But a poll paid for by Democrats and conducted Sept. 20-22 gave Hayes, a two-term incumbent who sits on the House transportation committee, a 48 to 36 percent lead over Kouri, a Charlotte native who beat three Democrats in last month's primary in his first bid for elected office.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kim Rubey said the survey of 501 likely voters, which had a margin of of plus or minus 4.4 percent, showed the Republican Hayes "is quite vulnerable" in the Nov. 5 election.
Hayes, from Concord, has raised more than $2 million in an effort to keep his 8th District seat. He spent almost $1 million between Aug. 22 and Sept. 30, the latest period covered by campaign finance reports.
Kouri has raised a total of $372,722 in his campaign. He spent $138,553 between Aug. 22 and September 30.
Kouri, 32, has the support of the national Democratic Party in its effort to take control of the U.S. House. He also has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who worked with Kouri on community relations while he was in office.
"What this district needs is ... someone who will go to Washington not interested in big-money politics, but someone who will work with his heart, and with his very considerable mind, to benefit those citizens who need him most," Gantt said.
Hayes, 57, was first elected in 1998 after he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1996. He won re-election in 2000, defeating conservative Democrat Mike Taylor by a 55 to 44 percent margin.
A Libertarian candidate is also on the ballot for the 8th District seat. Mark Johnson says he would end federal income taxes and abolish the IRS.
(Written by Mike Cooper in Atlant)