Mark Meadows shocked the political world today when he announced he would not be running for another term as representative for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district. However, despite the recent changes to the state’s congressional districts, there’s little evidence that NC-11 will be competitive in the future.
Ironically, the late decision by Meadows actually hurts the Democratic Party. The deadline for legislative candidates to remove themselves from the ballot was yesterday, meaning that Joe Sam Queen, a Democrat who serves North Carolina’s rural 119th district in the state house, won’t be able to run. Even if he did, however, the seat is simply too far gone for Democrats to compete in. Western North Carolina just isn’t the same area it was back in 2006, when Democrat Heath Shuler won the conservative seat for the first time on a pro-life, pro-gun, and fiscally moderate platform.
Looking at the whole district, Donald Trump would have won the new 11th district by 18 points in 2016 and Republicans would have averaged a decisive 12 point victory in statewide races that same year. Although Governor Roy Cooper would have lost the seat by only six points, a more than respectable result to be sure, it’s just not enough to indicate the seat will be competitive.
The only real area of Democratic strength is Buncombe, a reliably liberal county of around 260,000 people that voted for Hillary Clinton by 14 percentage points. Although the new 11th district incorporates all of Buncombe, it was also redrawn to include the Republican bastions of Mitchell and Avery, old-school unionist counties that haven’t voted for a Democrat since the 1870s; Trump won both counties by over 55 percentage points. Even Jackson County, a swingy college county that’s home to Western Carolina University, went from a one point win for Mitt Romney to an 11 point Trump win. Henderson County, the second-most populous county in the district, saw a swing of around six percentage points from 2008 to 2016; although it contains some suburbs of Asheville, they remain very Republican, with Democratic strength only concentrated around Hendersonville.
Democrats have bled especially hard in the rest of the district since 2008; Barack Obama was able to hold John McCain to under 60% in Macon, Transylvania, Haywood, Madison, and Yancey, but by 2016 all of these counties gave Trump over 60%. Most counties in the district saw a swing of at least 15 percentage points to the Republican Party from 2008 to 2016, but remarkably there’s still room for Republican growth in this overwhelmingly white and culturally conservative region.
It’s unclear as to who will be the nominees of either party at this point. However, the inability to draw from legislative candidates means that neither party has a strong bench to choose from. A wild card in the race will be how the Democratic primary goes – the primary will be dominated by Buncombe, which is home to perhaps the most liberal Democrats in the state. It’s unclear if Heath Shuler or a candidate like him could win a primary given they’d need to actively run against the Democratic base. It’s not impossible that a liberal might be nominated, setting Republicans up for an easy landslide victory. Regardless of who is nominated, Democrats will face an uphill climb to even be competitive in this Trump+18 seat, and barring some unforeseen development it should remain safely Republican in the near future.