Author Archives: Jim Ellis

North Carolina’s Rep. Cawthorn Switching Districts in 2022

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 15, 2021 — With the newly enacted North Carolina congressional map being vetted and analyzed, candidates for the various districts are beginning to come forth. One surprising move is the decision from freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville) to run in new District 13 instead of where his home and the majority of his current constituents reside, in new District 14.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn

Cawthorn, at at the age of 26, is the youngest member of Congress; he was elected to represent the 11th District in 2020, succeeding Mark Meadows, the former Trump chief of staff who left the US House to enter the White House. The 11th has traditionally been the number for the district that sits in the Tar Heel State’s far western corner, anchored in Asheville and nestled among the Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina borders, but the newly enacted congressional map changes its number to 14.

Though the seat in its present configuration has become strongly Republican, that was not always the case. Throughout the 1980’s the district became one of the most politically marginal CDs in the country. During that entire decade, the 11th switched repeatedly back and forth between Democrat James Clarke and Republican Billy Hendon.

Once businessman and former state legislator Charles Taylor defeated Rep. Clarke in 1990, he was able to hold the district for eight consecutive terms until losing in 2006 to Democrat Heath Shuler, the former star University of Tennessee quarterback and NFL player. Shuler represented the district for three terms before retiring, leading to Meadows winning the first of his four elections. Rep. Cawthorn then recorded a 55-42 percent win in 2020 to keep the seat in the Republican column.

The new iteration of the westernmost North Carolina district returns to a more politically marginal status with a statistical history producing Republican victories in the low 50s rather than the high 50s. The adjacent new open 13th District, which annexes the western part of the Charlotte metropolitan area and moves to the Buncombe County line, becomes the region’s new safe Republican seat.

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Nevada and Utah Maps Released

Nevada 2021 proposed Congressional redistricting map

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 12, 2021 — Two new proposed redistricting maps were released early in the week, both of which the Dave’s Redistricting App personnel, from the statistical analysis website that specializes in redistricting, call partisan gerrymanders. Democrats drew the Nevada map in anticipation of the special state legislative session beginning next week; Republicans crafted the Utah plan that has now cleared both houses of the state legislature.

In 2020, two of the Las Vegas area congressional districts turned in close re-election victories for Democratic incumbents, Rep. Susie Lee (District 3: 49-46 percent) and Rep. Steven Horsford (District 4: 51-46 percent). The Democratic controlled legislature is looking to improve their districts, from a partisan perspective, but that comes at the expense of Rep. Dina Titus’ downtown Las Vegas CD (District 1) that will become more competitive should this map be enacted as currently drawn. Titus’ 2020 victory spread was 62-33 percent.

Utah 2021 proposed Congressional redistricting map (click on map to see larger view)

The Utah Republican legislature’s redistricting team has designed a new map that would give all four Republican incumbents equivalently strong GOP districts. The big winner is freshman Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Salt Lake City), who sees his marginal district grow from one that produced only his plurality Republican victory over then-Rep. Ben McAdams (D) into the safest Republican seat in the state.

As with many of the smaller population western states with an expansive land mass and one metropolitan area that dominates the entity, the Republican map drawers chose a pie-shaped option, that is a plan where all of the state’s congressional districts share a piece of, in this case, the Salt Lake City metro area.

The Nevada map, on paper, is designed to send three Democrats and one Republican to the US House. The lone Republican, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City), will again have the northern 2nd District, a seat too far from Las Vegas to take any part of the metro area.

The geography, and the number of people in Nevada’s northern sector, makes drawing a 4D-0R map almost impossible. Therefore, in order to help craft three districts that Democrats should win in typical election years, the map drawers packed as many Republican voters as possible into the one northern district.

Dave’s Redistricting App’s analysts divided the new districts on a partisan basis, but their percentages are estimates. Almost 30 percent of the Nevada electorate registers as Nonpartisan, so dividing only into Democrat and Republican segments may not be particularly accurate.

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Sununu Won’t Take Senate Plunge

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) will not run for the Senate.

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 11, 2021 — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) held a long awaited news conference this week to announce his political plans for 2022. The governor had been the Republicans’ top recruitment prospect to challenge vulnerable Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, but the three-term state chief executive has chosen to eschew a tough Senate challenge and will instead run for a fourth gubernatorial term.

Though Sununu, like his father before him, has been elected three times as governor, he is still only in his fifth year of service. New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states that have two-year gubernatorial terms. In fact, for a 146-year period, no one had served more than one term as the state’s top office holder. The only governor in New Hampshire history to serve four terms is Democrat John Lynch, who was in office from 2005-2013.

Gov. Sununu’s decision certainly changes the New Hampshire political landscape and will cause potential candidates to begin assessing their chances both in a Senate race against Hassan and as a gubernatorial contender opposite Sununu. Attention now may turn to two-term US Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester).

The Republicans, with trifecta control of the New Hampshire political system in that they hold the governor’s office and have majorities in both houses of the legislature, are looking to change the marginal 1st Congressional District, the seat that has defeated more incumbents than any CD in the country since 2004, into a Republican domain. Doing so would concede the politically marginal 2nd District to incumbent Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster (D-Hopkinton/Concord).

Pappas, aware that a significant change in his district could make him an underdog for re-election, was likely headed into an open governor’s race if Sununu decided to run for Senate. Now that he would have to take on a popular incumbent, his next political move may be less clear.

Turning back to the Senate picture, incumbent Hassan still remains as the most vulnerable Democrat seeking re-election in 2022; so where do Republicans go now? Looking at the crowded 1st District race, two contenders stand out as potential statewide candidates.

Gail Huff Brown, a long time New England television news reporter, is the wife of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, and she has already announced her congressional candidacy. Former Sen. Brown, himself, would also be a possibility since he has already run for the Senate once in New Hampshire. Matt Mowers is the 2020 1st District nominee who held Rep. Pappas to a 51-46 percent re-election victory. He, too, is an announced congressional candidate but it appears possible that at least one of the aforementioned could instead enter the Senate race.

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Iowa Map Enacted

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 10, 2021 — Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed the new Iowa redistricting map package, legislation that contained the new US House, state Senate, and state House of Representatives maps. The new congressional plan makes what appear to be minor changes to the state’s four districts, while again crafting a new quartet that would have voted in unison for former President Donald Trump. As is the case on the current map, Trump’s district victory margins featured varying percentages.

The Iowa redistricting system is unique. Some believe the state redistricts through a commission, but that is not the case. Rather, a state legislative committee is tasked with drawing the three-map plans and presenting them to the legislature for final approval. The plans must be submitted as a package, and the legislators may only vote up or down on the whole group, as no amendments to any of the maps are allowed.

The committee also employs a formulaic algorithm to create the districts without regard to political proclivities or deference to incumbents. If three map packages are rejected, the legislature then takes full control of the process.

The adopted package is the second plan iteration. The committee staff first put forth a series of maps that failed to make it through the first state Senate committee of jurisdiction. That congressional map was much different than the ultimately enacted plan. In the first draw, freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion/Cedar Rapids) would have been placed in a decidedly Democratic district that would have made her an underdog for re-election in 2022.

It is likely, however, that alone was not the reason for the Senate committee members rejecting the map package. The committee staff created two separate pairings of three incumbent senators apiece, thus dooming the entire package. Once returned, the congressional map plan, using a changed formula, returned to a similar configuration as under the current map.

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