North Carolina swing district may affect control of US House
Nov 8, 2022, 1:45 PM | Updated: 2:40 pm
(AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Central to Democrats’ fight to fend off a red wave in the U.S. House is North Carolina, home to multiple districts with a slight political lean and one high-profile swing district that analysts have called a national bellwether for partisan control of Congress.
North Carolina Republicans held eight seats heading into this year, and Democrats held five. But several districts in this election cycle bear little resemblance to their previous iterations after a lengthy redistricting battle scrambled the state’s congressional map to account for the new fourteenth seat it was awarded following the 2020 census.
North Carolina’s lone swing district in the Raleigh suburbs, the closely watched 13th District, shares no common ground with its previous form about 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the west. Its recent relocation has situated the state’s marquee race between Democratic state Sen. Wiley Nickel and Republican political newcomer Bo Hines in uncharted territory for both parties.
A panel of three judges established the existing congressional map after it declared the Republican-controlled legislature’s proposed boundaries constituted unlawful partisan gerrymandering. The map will only be used for the 2022 election and will be redrawn by the General Assembly for 2024. Analysts say it favors Republicans in seven of the state’s 14 districts, and favors Democrats in six.
Regarded as one of the nation’s few battlegrounds for congressional control, the race for the 13th District pits a well-known Democratic state lawmaker and criminal defense attorney against a 27-year-old GOP upstart with former President Donald Trump’s backing. The two have spent the campaign cycle accusing the other of extreme views while trying to paint themselves as moderate enough to represent the district’s urban, suburban and rural constituents between Raleigh and Goldsboro.
At a polling location in Holly Springs, a Raleigh suburb that epitomizes the district’s narrow partisan divide, voters said they are less focused on the individual candidates and more focused on the national parties’ agendas.
Mark Swanson, a 50-year-old unaffiliated voter who cast his ballot for Nickel, said he doesn’t believe Republican control of Congress will improve the economy, noting that the pandemic illuminated long-term flaws in the global supply chain.
“I can’t vote Republican right now,” Swanson said. “What’s their solution to anything? They just complain about the economy stuff but, what, tax cuts and deregulation is going to solve all those problems? It’s not true. They’ve been doing that for years and it hasn’t done a damn thing.”
Aaron Wenzel, a 47-year-old registered Republican who voted for Hines, said he tends to support Republican candidates for federal offices and Democratic candidates for school board. The father of two said he thinks Hines is the right candidate to represent his “fiscally conservative perspective” at the national level but that Democrats’ ambitious spending goals are needed at the local level to bring North Carolina’s public schools “up to par.”
In the right-leaning western mountain counties of the 11th district, Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is taking on Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the state’s May primary after he served just one term on Capitol Hill.
The district includes the progressive arts hub of Asheville tucked between many of the state’s deep red mountain towns bordering Tennessee and Georgia. Beach-Ferrara, a two-term Buncombe County Commissioner, ordained minister and nationally recognized LGBTQ activist, is running to become the state’s first out LGBTQ person elected to a federal office.
In the northeast corner of the state along the Virginia border, Republicans are eying the redrawn 1st District as a potential pickup. A longtime Democratic stronghold, represented by retiring Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield since 2004, the 1st District now hosts a competitive race for the open seat Butterfield is vacating.
The outgoing congressman endorsed Democratic state Sen. Don Davis — a former Air Force officer, minister and former mayor of Snow Hill, North Carolina — as his successor. Davis faces Republican Sandy Smith, a Trump-endorsed business executive, who aims to flip the seat red after failing to do so in 2020, when she lost to Butterfield.
And in the new left-leaning 14th District, based in western Charlotte, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson faces Republican businessman Pat Harrigan. Both are military veterans who served in Afghanistan. Harrigan now runs a company in Burke County that manufactures handguns and semiautomatic rifles.
Political analysts, such as David McLennan of Meredith College in Raleigh, say nationwide redistricting efforts gave Republicans a clear advantage heading into the midterms. “But it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been,” he said, noting that North Carolina had greater court intervention in its redistricting process than in many other states. He expects Democrats will be unable to hold their ground in the House, even with big wins in North Carolina.
“The net gain for Democrats is not going to be significant in North Carolina, but they’re not going to lose too much either,” McLennan said. “Even if Nickel were to win, and Don Davis wins in the 1st Congressional District and Jeff Jackson wins in the 14th Congressional District, it’s not going to protect the Democrats from, I think, losing control of the House.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at @H_Schoenbaum.
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