OPINION: Republicans Pass Highly Competitive New Congressional Map

The N.C. Senate. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

By Dallas Woodhouse
The Woodshed for Carolina Journal

North Carolina will have some of the most competitive U.S. House races in the nation this year under a new congressional map given final approval by the General Assembly. The map will be reviewed by a lower court as well as the state Supreme Court before candidate filing re-opens late next week.

The map completes the General Assembly’s redraw of the state’s 14 U.S. House districts in order to comply with the order from the 4-3 Democrat-majority N.C. Supreme Court, issued Feb. 4.

According to John Locke Foundation researchers, the new congressional redistricting plan would have six safe Republican seats, four safe Democratic seats, and four toss-up districts.

“Republicans went out of their way to make competitive districts defined by 5% or less,” said Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation. “The General Assembly went beyond what the court required. Two or three competitive districts would have been sufficient to comply with the Feb. 4 North Carolina Supreme Court order.”

On the floor of the N.C. Senate on Thursday night, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, explained the data analysis to fellow lawmakers after what was a volatile debate.

“This remedial map reflects North Carolina’s voters and political landscape, not a predetermined partisan outcome,” Daniel said.

“Our state will have what we believe to be four of the most competitive districts in the nation. It meets the court’s metrics,” he added. “It’s also one of the most competitive maps in the country, that we think is fair.”

Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer agreed, calling the map “shockingly” competitive.

The four swing districts were decided by less than one percentage point using statewide election data from the outcome of 12 races held from  2016 to 2020.

“If nothing else, this map promises to set up some interesting and potentially consequential matchups—matchups that will draw national money and national attention,” Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper told CJ. “The combination of up to four swing districts and potentially tight primaries in the partisan districts ensures that uncertainty will continue to be the watchword in North Carolina politics.”

Multiple sources say that legislative Democrats rejected a GOP offer to create a 7-5-2  map, that would have assured Democrats five victories in about any circumstance. The map would have achieved several Democratic goals by creating a solid Democrat seat in Greensboro, keeping Guilford County whole, and setting up a safe seat for incumbent U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning. Instead, Manning will be in one of the highly competitive districts.

Competitive districts to watch

Manning might be suffering from whiplash, seeing her political fortunes rise and fall dramatically in one day. In the blink of an eye, Manning saw her safe congressional district be drawn out of existence, re-established, and now turned into an almost evenly divided district that will be challenging to win in 2022.  She could face current U.S. Senate candidate and former Greensboro-area Congressman Mark Walker in a general election contest. Walker is once again considering running for U.S. House, in the newly drafted NC-6, which will contain about 3/4  of Greensboro and eastern Guilford, with all of Randolph, Lee, Chatham, and Harnett counties and small parts of Rockingham and Alamance.

Former N.C. State football player turned-congressional hopeful Bo Hines also announced Thursday that he will seek to represent the 6th District. He made the announcement shortly after the General Assembly passed the new congressional map. Hines had been campaigning in the area since considering a run for office.

“I just truly believe that this is the place that I feel at home,” Hines told WRAL in an interview. “I’ve been here the last five years of my life, and I love the people here and want to represent them in Congress.”

Potential Walker-Manning or Manning-Hines match-ups in the Triad are not the only potential sources of intrigue created by the new map.

Far western N.C. Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn will see an even more Republican home district.

However, Cawthorn has previously stated that he would run for Congress in a newly created district near Charlotte.

Last year, when Cawthorn announced his decision to move districts, he said he wanted to ensure a “go along to get along” Republican wasn’t elected to represent the new district, implying that the district was created for Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. “I will not let that happen,” Cawthorn said in a video announcement. Moore announced at that time he would remain in the North Carolina House.

However, the newly drafted NC-14 will contain very few of Cawthorn’s current voters. The new NC-14 contains half of Rutherford County, all of Cleveland and Gaston, and parts of the Mecklenburg County suburbs. It is an evenly divided district winnable by either party. Moore has confirmed in public statements that he is considering running in the new 14th District.

“Many folks have continually asked me to consider running to represent our region of the state in Congress,” Moore said. “I will make a final decision once the maps are approved.”

Cawthorn has yet to announce in which district he plans to run.

“As we tumble closer towards the resumption of candidate filing, it will be interesting to watch the strategy behind not just who runs, but thanks to Madison Cawthorn’s norm-breaking behavior, who will run where,” said Cooper, the Western Carolina political scientist.

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, a Republican, was also drawn into a highly competitive seat. His NC-7 district now includes Democrat-heavy Cumberland County, as well as Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, and part of Columbus.  President Biden won this district by less than 1% in 2020.

The final highly competitive seat, NC-13, will be an open seat with no incumbent, It includes southern Wake County, with Fuquay-Varina, Cary, neighborhoods near the Raleigh-Durham International airport, and Morrisville. It will include all of GOP powerhouse Johnston County, with Sampson and Duplin counties as well. It also has about a third of Wayne County.

Democrats were highly critical of the new congressional map, arguing that while the maps comply with the courts’ orders and pass two of its preferred statistical tests for “partisan fairness,” the maps are still not fair.

“Using 2020 statistics, it would likely be a 9-5 map,” said Guilford County Democrat Pricey Harrison, “but likely 10-4 in 2022. That’s the same map, the 10-4 split, that got struck down as a partisan gerrymander.”

There are winners and losers in any political redistricting scheme. Democrats had hoped Manning would be assigned a solid Democrat district that would keep Guilford whole. Guilford is likely to be represented by two Republicans in 2023.

No Sandhills district

Democrats have long pushed for the creation of a Sandhills district anchored by Cumberland County, an effort led by Democrat State Sen. Ben Clark. Clark previously announced a congressional run, but would have to face Rouzer. Robeson Democrat Rep. Charles Graham said the new map showed a “lack of respect” for the Sandhills. Graham had also previously announced a congressional run.

Cumberland County Republican State Rep. John Szoka was already putting together a well-funded and organized congressional run before the previous maps were struck down. He thought he would be running in a new Sandhills district until Republicans had to reconfigure the proposed congressional maps to pass the courts’ numerical tests. Worse for Szoka, his current Fayetteville-area state House seat was redrawn for Democrats in bargaining between Republicans and Democrats. Szoka has a fully stocked campaign war chest and no place to run.

Szoka was one of just two Republican House members to vote against the new map.

“I’m not going to vote for this, but not because it doesn’t meet the court’s criteria, because it does,” said Szoka on the floor of the House Thursday night.

“My biggest gripe isn’t that the map doesn’t meet the statistics of the area, but because we’ve been forced into a map that doesn’t meet the reality of where we live and what we want,” he added. ” You should vote for this map. I just can’t.”

Next steps

The state Supreme Court will have the final say over the adoption of the revised congressional map. To reject the map, Democrats on the Supreme Court would have to contend that, while the GOP followed its instructions for metric-based “partisan fairness,” they compromised traditional redistricting criteria of compactness and drawing like-minded communities together. Should the court reject the map, an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely.

Democrat districts:

  • Northeastern NC-1  includes: Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe Franklin, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Vance, Warren, Wilson, and parts of Granville, Pitt and Wayne (Open seat)
  • NC-2  Northern and central Wake County (Rep. Deborah Ross)
  • NC-4 Caswell, Durham, Orange, Person, and parts of Alamance and Granville  (Open seat)
  • NC-12 Mecklenburg  (Rep. Alma Adams)

Republican districts: 
These will also change significantly, but the map should achieve a GOP goal of protecting its current incumbents.

  • NC-3 Beaufort, Carteret, Camden, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Tyrrell, Washington, and part of Pitt (Rep. Greg Murphy)
  • NC-5 Alleghany, Ashe, Forsyth, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes, and parts of Rockingham and Yadkin (Rep. Virginia Foxx)
  • NC-8 Cabarrus and parts of Davidson, Guilford, and Rowan (Rep. Richard Hudson)
  • NC-9  Anson, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland, Stanly, Union, and parts of Columbus and Davidson (The seat is technically open, but incumbent Rep. Dan Bishop will run here)
  • NC-10 Alexander, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Davie, Iredell, Lincoln, and parts of McDowell, Rowan, and Yadkin (Rep. Patrick McHenry)
  • NC-11 Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Jackson, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Swain, Transylvania, Yancey, and parts of McDowell and Rutherford  (Cawthorn, though Cawthorn has announced plans to run in a different district)

Swing seats

  • NC-6 – Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Randolph, and parts of Alamance, Guilford, and Rockingham (Manning)
  • NC-7 – Bladen, Brunswick, Cumberland, New Hanover, and part of Columbus (Rouzer)
  • NC-13 – Duplin, Johnston, Sampson, Wake and Wayne (Open seat)
  • NC-14 Cleveland, Gaston, and parts of Mecklenburg and Rutherford (Open seat)