candidate filing for North Carolina begins at noon today, and the future of North Carolina’s congressional delegation is set to change. Despite a court-mandated redraw in 2020 that saw Democrats flip two Congressional districts, Democrats failed to gain either chamber in the legislature.
With North Carolina gaining a new 14th congressional district, Republicans have taken advantage of their electoral fortune. The Tar Heel State’s new congressional lines present one of the strongest opportunities for Republican gains in the nation.
On The Whole
While North Carolina’s new congressional map isn’t quite as egregious in appearance as some of the state’s most legendary gerrymanders, it still skews heavily towards Republicans. Donald Trump won 10 of 14 seats, and only three districts (NC-02, NC-04, and NC-14) were won by either party with under 10% of the vote.
In a best-case scenario for Republicans, they could win 11 seats. Democrats could perhaps win six seats at most, although even that would be a challenge; Roy Cooper only won four seats in his four-point victory in 2020.
What’s more surprising here – aside from the complete and unnecessary renumbering of districts – is the number of truly open seats. Despite a lack of truly competitive districts, the 2022 primaries are set to bring major change in the Tar Heel State.
The Safe Incumbents
Republican incumbents appear well-set in most districts. In the newly-redrawn NC-01, Republican Rep. Greg Murphy should be more than well-set, while fellow Republican David Rouzer’s new NC-03 is equally promising. Republicans Dan Bishop (NC-08), Richard Hudson (NC-10), Patrick McHenry (NC-12), and Virginia Foxx (NC-11) also remain well-set in solidly Republican districts.
On the Democratic side, only two Democrats of the current five have opted to run for re-election. Freshman Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-05) is the big winner here, as her Wake County-based seat remains almost entirely intact. Additionally, Alma Adams (NC-09) remains well-set in her Charlotte-based district.
NC-02: Butterfield steps aside
One of the key seats redistricting analysis focused on was the new NC-02 Straddling the traditionally Democratic “black belt” counties, this district’s previous form in NC-01 had long been a source of litigation and controversy, eventually solidifying into an irregularly-shaped but majority-black seat throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s. Two Republican-drawn versions – both of them stretching into Durham – were rejected by courts throughout the 2010s, with the final version used in the 2020 elections containing none of Durham.
Despite being reliably Democratic, this seat only went to Joe Biden by around nine percentage points. Incumbent Democrat G.K. Butterfield won by a similar margin, but the seat’s Republican trend and declining population in northeastern North Carolina meant it would likely shift to be somewhat more Republican in redistricting even under a natural map. Already on retirement watch, Butterfield officially retired following the unveiling of his new district, a seat that Biden won by just over 2%.
So far, relatively few candidates have declared for NC-02. Former State Senator Erica Smith, a progressive, is currently the highest-profile Democratic candidate for this seat, while 2020 Republican candidate Sandy Smith has jumped in as well. Regardless, this seat will likely be the most competitive in the state in 2022.
NC-04: The Wildcard
At Trump+6.7%, NC-04 is the most competitive of the Republican-leaning seats under the new map – and it’s also wide open, with no incumbent. While Rep. David Rouzer used to live in Johnston County, he relocated to Wilmington in 2018, putting him in the new 3rd district.
On paper, this seat’s design is curious, combining a large, urban Democratic county with heavily Republican suburbs that nonetheless shifted to the left in 2020. Its competitive nature has also attracted a few major recruits. On the Democratic side, State Senator Ben Clark has announced his candidacy while State Representative Charles Graham – who doesn’t live in the district – has also shifted his candidacy to the seat. On the Republican side, former Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robert on is the highest-profile candidate so far. NC-07 candidate Bo Hines – a political neophyte who had previous abandoned a primary challenge to Virginia Foxx – is reportedly also shifting to this district.
Former NC-02 Representative Renee Ellmers, a Republican, is reportedly considering a run, but she would face tall odds; she lost her three-way primary in 2016 as an incumbent by a 30-point margin, and her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor in 2020 saw her finish with only 6.8% of the vote. Consider this potential comeback unlikely.
NC-06: A Progressive Opportunity
Now containing all of Durham, Chapel Hill, and parts of Wake County, the new NC-06 is without a doubt the most liberal congressional district in North Carolina; Joe Biden won the seat by a 73%-25% margin in 2020. With longtime incumbent David Price, an establishment liberal, retiring, the question is what type of Democrat will succeed him.
The crowded primary field already includes a slew of credible candidates, including State Senator Willy Nickel, State Senator Valerie Foushee, and Durham County Commissioner Nida Alam, but it remains to be seen whether progressives will secure a rare win in the south. Regardless, it ranks among their best chances in the region.
NC-07: The Comeback
This Trump+17 seat is theoretically wide-open, but it may soon face a field-clearing candidacy. According to Carolina Journal, former NC-06 Representative Mark Walker is expected to abandon his candidacy for Senate and file instead for NC-07. Former President Trump will reportedly endorse Walker. With the new configuration resembling the old NC-06 he previously represented in Congress, he would be the prohibitive favorite here.
The mere threat of a Walker candidacy has evidently spooked political newcomer Bo Hines into relocating to NC-04. But regardless of who Republicans nominate, this seat should remain firmly in the GOP’s control.
NC-13: An Unorthodox Carpetbag
When this Trump+20 seat was drawn, it was apparent that House Speaker Tim Moore was firmly eying a run on this seat. However, following Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s unusual decision to abandon his Appalachia-based seat and relocate to the Charlotte area, Moore instead backed down.
While Moore might be spooked, it’s not quite clear if Cawthorn has a firm lock on the seat; a Hendersonville native, he has no real connections to the Charlotte area and his current seat lies almost entirely outside the Charlotte media market. Gaston and Mecklenburg County have no shortage of Republicans interested in higher office, but until other candidates announce, it’s clear that Cawthorn is the frontrunner here.
NC-14: An unexpected vacany
Cawthorn’s decision to relocate to NC-13 has left this Trump+7.4% seat wide-open. While Democrats have long decried the lack of a Democratic seat around Asheville, the reality is the city simply isn’t enough to carry a district. The kicker? The design Republicans chose incorporates almost all of Democratic-leaning Watagua County. In other words, this best-case-scenario seat for Democrats still voted Republican in every statewide race by generally wide margins.
State Senator Chuck Edwards has already announced his candidacy, and State Senators Ralph Hise and Deanna Ballard are rumored to be interested in running; all three are fairly typical Republicans. Democratic interest in the seat, which was already fairly low to begin with, appears to have somewhat dried up as the result of Cawthorn’s departure, with no major candidates having announced since the map’s passage.