Nov. 22, 2021 — As was suggested earlier in the week, 10-term North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson) announced late last week that he will not seek re-election next year. He leaves a new 2nd District – his seat had been numbered NC-1 throughout his career – that will be more competitive in 2022.
Rep. Butterfield attacked the Republican-passed redistricting plan as a gerrymander on his way out and says the draw hurts African Americans in his district. He says that largely because an African American section of Pitt County was removed from the district, along with a small conservative county, and replaced with three larger and decidedly more Republican localities along the Virginia border.
North Carolina gained a seat in reapportionment, but the Butterfield seat was the only current Tar Heel State CD that needed to gain residents. The current 1st District was 58,205 individuals short of the state’s new population quota of 745,671 individuals per CD, so the map drawers had no choice but to add people. Virtually all of the surrounding counties are Republican.
The new 2nd District is certainly more competitive. While President Biden carried the current 1st District with a 54-45 percent margin, on par with Hillary Clinton’s 55-44 percent spread in 2016, the new 2nd District would have given Biden only a 51-48 percent vote split.
Though the new 2nd will be more competitive, the current 1st District was beginning to show signs of political change. This somewhat dispels Rep. Butterfield’s gerrymandering argument. While the previous eight elections delivered an average vote of 72.6 percent for Butterfield, his 2020 victory margin dropped to 54-46 percent opposite accountant and political activist Sandy Smith (R).
Though the state Supreme Court changed the North Carolina map for the 2020 election and basically awarded the Democrats two of the Republicans’ seats, the 1st was left largely unchanged. This suggests that the electorate could be transforming naturally, thus alternative reasons exist for the district becoming more conservative than simply altering the district lines.
We can expect to see competitive primaries in both parties, and things will quickly unfold now that the seat is open. Prior to the retirement announcement, Henderson City Councilman Jason Spriggs had announced a Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Butterfield but he was not rated as a serious challenge to the congressman.