Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina on Thursday became the third Republican U.S. House member in as many weeks to announce he would not seek re-election in 2014.
But, in contrast to retiring Reps. Tim Griffin, 45, of Arkansas and Jon Runyan, 39, of New Jersey, both of whom were first elected in 2010, the 82-year-old Coble first came to Congress in 1984 when Ronald Reagan was re-elected.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Coble, the seventh-ranking House Republican in seniority, explained why he was leaving and voiced confidence his Sixth District seat will remain in Republican hands.
"I have had backaches that keep acting up and skin cancer, and redistricting added eight new counties to my district," Coble said. "So I decided about a month ago to let it go.
"And I've had a great ride," Coble said.
A former state representative and state secretary of revenue, Coble won his first term in 1984 by unseating Democratic Rep. Robin Britt. Two years later, Coble survived a rematch with Britt by 79 votes in the closest House race of all 435 that year. Since then, the feisty Republican has had little trouble winning re-election.
"He provided the best constituent service in our state with the exception of [the late Sen.] Jesse Helms and, whether one agreed with him or not, people always agreed that Rep. Coble always conducted himself with great dignity," veteran North Carolina GOP consultant Marc Rotterman told Newsmax.
In contrast to the sudden opportunities for pickups afforded Democrats by the retirements of Griffin and Runyan, Coble and just about all observers in the Tarheel State believe his Sixth District is a cinch to remain in Republican hands.
The most-oft mentioned Republican prospect as a successor is Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger, Jr., namesake son of the popular state Senate president. Often likened to Rudy Giuliani and Eliot Ness for his record as a lawman, Berger is well-liked by both the "establishment" and "tea party" factions within the Sixth District's GOP.
"Besides Berger," reported the Raleigh News and Observer, "other potential or committed Republican candidates are Nathan Tabor, a former Forsyth County GOP chairman; Mark Walker, a Greensboro minister; Tom Manning, chairman of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners; and Bill Wright, former mayor of Pleasant Garden."
Although he supported Republican efforts in the House that defunded or delayed implementation of Obamacare, Coble said it may have been a tactical error to link the issue to the continuing resolution and the debt-ceiling extension bills.
"Perhaps a better tactic would have been to allow Obamacare to go into effect, and as we are witnessing now, then collapse from its own dead weight."
With a lifetime rating of 87 percent from the American Conservative Union, Coble usually voted the conservative line. A self-styled "fiscal skinflint," he combed the federal budget looking for things to possibly "pencil out." Admirers even gave him a giant rubber pencil to highlight his efforts and he proudly kept it in his office.
Coble was also one of only two House members in modern times – the other was Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas – who did not participate in the congressional pension program.
"I'll get something from the state and something from the Coast Guard and Social Security, so I don't need any more retirement," he told Newsmax.
Coble said his proudest accomplishment was "removing the requirement of financial gain for criminal prosecution of copyright violation." In 1997, the House passed the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act that Coble had worked to secure passage of for so long.
As for his biggest disappointment, the North Carolinian simply said: "We all have disappointments."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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