Incumbent Representative John J. Flynt in his previous nine runs had never faced any difficult challenge, winning re-election in 1972 without any formal opposition. However, in 1974, he was nearly defeated by political newcomer Newt Gingrich. This came as a considerable surprise. Flynt was known as one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, and 1974 was a very bad year for Republicans nationally due to fallout from Watergate. Gingrich would face Flynt in another close race in 1976, but come short again. Flynt would retire in 1978 rather than fight another close match (and possibly unsuccessful re-election bid) with Gingrich, thus finally giving Republicans a victory in a district that had not elected a Republican to the House of Representatives since Reconstruction.