By Jim Ellis
Dec. 14, 2021 — Last week proved to be a topsy-turvy week in North Carolina politics, and situations are being created that won’t likely be resolved for some time.
First, a three-judge panel suspended the state’s Dec. 17 candidate filing deadline to allow consideration time for the filed partisan gerrymandering lawsuits. A day later, the en banc 15-member State Appellate Court overturned the judicial panel’s ruling and reinstated the Dec. 17 filing deadline. Just hours later, the state Supreme Court overruled the full Appellate Court and not only reinstated the original ruling suspending the candidate filing deadline, but postponed the North Carolina primary more than two months, moving it from March 8 to May 17.
The final ruling affects all candidates at every level because the primary now returns to the traditional May slot that North Carolina typically holds. The respective Democratic and Republican Party leaders moved the primary in 2020 to better position the state for the presidential nomination process. In the 2021 legislative session, the General Assembly took no action to move the primary back to May.
The judicial rulings also affect the statewide US Senate race. For example, ex-Congressman Mark Walker (R) is a Senate candidate who did not seek re-election to the House in 2020 because the late-decade court-ordered redistricting ruling tore his previous 6th District into several parts making the region unattainable for any Republican.
Many people on the right, including former President Donald Trump, are reportedly urging Walker to leave the Senate race and run in the state’s open 7th Congressional District. The newly created CD-7 in the Greensboro area, which Walker largely represented, would certainly be winnable for him. In actuality, he would only have to win a Republican primary. If this map stands, the new 7th will be safe for the GOP in any general election.
Currently, the former congressman trails badly in early US Senate polling, but he is planning to stay in the Senate race until at least the end of the year, or when the congressional map status becomes clear.
If Walker exits the Senate race, there are those who believe that would help Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance) in his statewide effort against former Gov. Pat McCrory (R). Trump has already endorsed Budd, and the ex-president’s endorsement is being dangled before Walker should he switch to the House race.
It is widely viewed that Walker, who was running at only 13 percent in the latest publicly released poll for the North Carolina Senate Republican primary (WPA Intelligence; Nov. 1-3; McCrory 36 percent, Budd 33 percent, Walker 13 percent), would take anti-McCrory votes away from Budd, possibly blocking him from winning the nomination. Because McCrory lost the 2016 governor’s race as the incumbent, many question his viability in the general election.
To review, the Republican legislature (in North Carolina, the governor does not have veto power over redistricting legislation) crafted a new congressional map that would likely elect 10 Republicans and three Democrats with a politically marginal open seat from which Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson) is retiring.
Democrats argue the map represents a partisan gerrymander because the statewide votes are traditionally close, which is not represented in a 10R-4D congressional cut. We can expect to see Republicans make similar legal arguments in Illinois, New Mexico, and likely New York when the latter state’s redistricting process is eventually completed. In those states, it is the Democrats who have drawn, or are drawing, maximum partisan maps.
If the North Carolina map stands, we will also see five open seats since the state gains a district in reapportionment and Reps. Budd, Butterfield, and David Price (D-Chapel Hill), are not seeking re-election. Furthermore, Reps. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) and Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) are paired in one district. In addition to the new 14th District, the map drawers created a new open 4th District anchored in the Fayetteville area.