Can Heath Shuler Score?

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Democratic candidate for Congress Heath Shuler campaigns near Waynesville, N.C., in May.

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Taylor, a banker and timber magnate, is one of Congress' wealthiest members. and the Democrats are also making an issue of his finances. In his 2005 financial disclosure statement, he listed more than $50 million in stock in Asheville-based Financial Guaranty Corp., a Taylor-owned holding corporation, and between $1 million and $5 million in savings accounts at Blue Ridge Savings, the Asheville-based bank he founded and still chairs; a land and timber partnership in Haywood County; and shares of the Russia-based Bank of Inanovo.

The Democratic committee has launched a series of advertisements questioning Taylor's banking activities in the U.S. and in Russia. In 2003, two long-time political associates of Taylor, Charles "Chig" Cagle and Hayes Martin, testified at a criminal trial that Taylor knew of fraudulent loans made to Cagle by Blue Ridge Savings, though Taylor has denied any knowledge of the loans.

Taylor's ethical clouds don't end in North Carolina. He has admitted to taking nearly $3,000 from disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his wife; Taylor has said he does not intend to return the money.

As with many races this year, illegal immigration is shaping up to be a key issue in the 11th district, where many agricultural businesses, including Christmas trees, rely on immigrant labor. Taylor's first radio commercial has painted Shuler as being soft on illegal immigration, and the Republican Party has backed it up with illegal immigration billboards scattered around Asheville and western North Carolina. For his part, Shuler claims to be as tough on illegal immigration as Taylor.

Indeed, on many issues, the two actually have very similar positions. But if the negative campaigning continues, the residents of western North Carolina may not feel like cheering either the veteran or the rookie on the playing field.

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