HICKORY — To boos and applause, a member of one of America's least-loved institutions came home Monday night to a district divided over where their leaders are taking them.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Cherryville Republican who is one of President Barack Obama's staunchest conservative opponents, packed a community-college auditorium with more than 240 constituents. Midway through his fourth term, it was McHenry's 61st town hall meeting.
This one came with passions still roiling from the bitter debate over the debt ceiling, high unemployment and the plummeting stock market. The 10 counties in his 10th Congressional District range from the southern foothills to mountain counties bordering Tennessee.
The congressman lectured his audience on the $14 trillion national debt. He was quizzed on his new office furniture and his out-of-state campaign donations. And he was challenged on his votes on spending - cutting too deeply, one audience speaker said, or not enough, according to another.
"Can you tell me why I shouldn't work to have you defeated in the next election?" asked Marc Bechtol, 37, a student at Catawba Valley Community College who chided McHenry for voting to increase the debt ceiling. "You don't pay your bills with your Visa card, then pay your Visa with your MasterCard."
Amid the political talk, some came to appeal for personal help: An Iraqi war veteran who wept and said he couldn't get military insurance for his wife and four kids. A single mom of two - working two jobs and looking for a third - hoping to find day care she could afford.
But most talk focused on the ills of Washington.
Dennis Buchler of Maiden suggested McHenry "lead by example" and take a 20 percent pay cut.
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