By Jim Ellis
Nov. 20, 2019 — If it seems like the North Carolina redistricting process has dragged on for the entire decade, then your senses are correct, because it has. After seeing a mid-decade re-draw before the 2016 elections, another set of lines will be in place for 2020, and then another plan for the ensuing electoral decade beginning in 2022 will be enacted during the regular decennial process. North Carolina is a sure bet to gain a new congressional seat in 2020 reapportionment.
Last week, the Republican legislature produced a new map per court order that will concede two more seats to the Democrats. This plan is not final, however, as the new map still has must clear the legal process and certainly the Democrats will challenge in an attempt to get more. Republicans will counter and attempt to move the process away from the state three-judge panel which has been favorable to the Democratic arguments, and into federal court where they feel their own points may be given a more sympathetic hearing.
Racial gerrymandering was the subject of the original challenges, but when those arguments led to a new map without a net gain of Democratic seats, the plaintiffs filed political gerrymandering lawsuits. With the Supreme Court basically returning the political gerrymandering arguments back to the state courts, the Democrats, at least in North Carolina, are in much better position to get a map that better reflects their intended outcome.
With the current split being 10R-3D, which of the current members are in the deepest trouble under the new map? Though the map looks fundamentally similar to the current plan, there are sizable differences in district configuration from a political context.
The Daily Kos Elections site ran a voting analysis of the new seats, and it appears a new Tar Heel State delegation under this map would feature eight Republicans and five Democrats, or a net gain of two seats for the latter party.
The two current incumbents who would not likely return under the plan are Reps. George Holding (R-Raleigh) and Mark Walker (R-Greensboro). Their districts go from being a plus-10 Trump district for Holding to a minus-14 CD, and for Walker an original plus-15 Trump to a minus-11.
Minority populations in each district would also grow. Currently, Rep. Holding’s district is 20 percent black, and four percent Hispanic, with all other minority populations running under 1.5 percent. Under the new plan, the black citizen voting age population remains constant, but Latinos increase to 8.4 percent and Asians from 1.4 to 5.8 percent. The new Holding district, NC-2, would now contain downtown Raleigh, which means state government and a major university would be located within its confines, which always favors a liberal candidate.
Rep. Walker would see his 6th District radically change, going from a Republican suburban district with no downtown city region to a seat with two major cities, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. The 6th would now find a citizen voting age black population of 31 percent, up from 20.6 percent under the current CD boundaries. The Latino base would be over seven percent instead of less than two percent. Asians would increase from one to four percent. With base Democratic numbers in this district about five points higher than even Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s (D-Wilson) seat in east-central North Carolina, the new 6th District would no longer be Republican.
Turning to the future, if this map is determined to contain the actual 2020 district boundaries, Rep. Holding is hinting that he would likely retire since his options are very limited, while Rep. Walker could potentially venture into one of the neighboring GOP seats to challenge either Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk; Winston-Salem) or Ted Budd (R-Advance) in the Republican primary.
The safest districts on the new map would belong to Reps. Greg Murphy (R-Greenville), David Price (D-Chapel Hill), Foxx, Patrick McHenry (R-Lake Norman), Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/Asheville), Alma Adams (D-Charlotte), and Budd.
Members having slightly more competitive seats but still would be heavily favored in any election include Reps. Butterfield, David Rouzer (R-Wilmington), Richard Hudson (R-Concord), and the newly elected Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte).
Though more legal wrangling will occur, the participants are quickly running out of time to finalize the map. The North Carolina candidate filing deadline is Dec. 20, and their statewide primary is concurrent with Super Tuesday on March 3.