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WUNC reports from Greensboro about Guilford County and surrounding area.

U.S. Representative Howard Coble Will Not Seek Re-election

Mark Walker and Laura FJeld both hope to replace 83-year-old Howard Coble who is retiring after 30 years in Congress.
US House of Representatives

North Carolina’s longest serving Republican in the House of Representatives says he will not run for re-election.

Congressman Howard Coble of the sixth district first won his seat in 1984, and has been re-elected ever since then. Coble says he is mentally sharp, but some problems have made him change his mind about running again.

 Coble held a news conference at Guilford County’s Republican headquarters yesterday, recorded by WXII-TV. The 82-year-old said his back and skin cancer issues have begun to catch up with him.

"My back pain occurs not infrequent, not infrequently, but in spite of that I had planned to seek re-election recently," said Coble. "But if I’m not physically capable of going full ahead, I fear that it would probably have a negative impact on the campaign, so I have dismissed that proposal, and decided I will not seek re-election.

Coble said he’s looking forward to finishing out his term in Washington. But he reassured the friendly crowd of constituents, staff members and reporters that his physical condition is the only thing they need to worry about:

"I still have the energy and interest to discharge Congressional duties, but back and skin cancer are troublesome. Now some of you may disagree with this. Mentally and emotionally, I am stable and reliable."

The veteran congressman is well known for his charisma- and many say that’s one reason why he’s had such a long and great political career.

"I think one of the wonderful things about Howard Coble that made him so successful in Washington was his great sense of humor,"  says Ballard Everett, a Republican strategist in Raleigh. "And his ability to just get to know people on just a personal level and if they had problems, sit down and talk them out, but just not to walk into a room and immediately say oh you’re a Democrat or you’re a labor guy or somebody else, but just to look at them as people and say we’re going to do a job and we’re going to get it done."

Coble, who serves on the House Judiciary and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees, is well known for his conservative stands on a variety of issues, from copyright infringement to medical marijuana.

But Democratic political strategist Gary Pearce says Coble stands out as an old guard Republican.

"I probably disagreed with him on 90 percent of everything. But he struck me as a bit more flexible and less doctrinaire than a lot of Republicans are today," says Pearce.

Pearce says Coble’s experience before heading to Washington was invaluable preparation for Congress. Coble served as Secretary of Revenue under Governor James Holshouser, a moderate Republican.

And as Pearce points out, Coble was also a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives before heading to Congress:

"He’s really a Holshouser Republican. That was the first Republican governor. Of course Holshouser died not long ago. Howard came out of that, he’d been in the legislature, and that was a time when they had to build a bigger tent."

Governor Holshouser was the state’s first Republican governor elected since 1896.

In October, Congressman Coble told WUNC’s The State of Things that Republicans today need to be more inclusive, or the party itself may suffer. This was just after Coble voted to get the federal government running again, despite Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s objections.   

"I think there oughta be enough room in our political tent to accommodate Senator Cruz on the one hand and Governor Christie on the other," said Coble. "Now some people in my party would like to build a fence around that tent and restrict those who would be admitted. But I think- let’s enlarge the tent."

What kind of Republican or Democrat will fill Coble’s shoes in 2015 remains to be seen. Two candidates from the opposing parties have already filed to run. More are expected to follow.

But Coble isn’t retiring yet. He’s frequently seen out and about in Greensboro and nearby areas speaking to civic groups and meeting with constituents. Attorney Marshall Hurley was Coble’s first Chief of Staff in Washington.  

"He still acts like a freshman Congressman, in terms of his attentiveness to people, taking a genuine interest in people, and looking them in the eye and hearing them out," says Hurley.

Hurley says whomever becomes the next congressional representative from the sixth district will have big shoes to fill.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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