With a narrower result than almost anyone predicted, Republicans will head into the 118th Congress with a 222-213 majority – a slight majority that owes itself in large part due to Republican wins in a number of seats Joe Biden won by double-digits or near double-digit margins.
With such a narrow majority across a number of tenuous seats, it’s very possible that the House will flip back in 2024. But Republicans are hoping for mid-decade redistricting gains in a handful of states – North Carolina among them. And they won’t even need a favorable ruling in Moore v. Harper to do it.
A North Carolina redraw will happen
The current interim congressional map is just that: a map that only exists for one election. The map that the court-appointed special masters produced – which yielded a 7-7 partisan split – must now be replaced by a map to last the rest of the decade. And the expanded Republican legislature, without a veto or court to push back, seems poised to eliminate all but a handful of Democratic districts.
To say North Carolina redistricting has been contentious would be an understatement; the state has had four different congressional maps from 2012 on, and the last three cycles have featured three separate maps. The new map the legislature will draw – the fourth congressional map in as many cycles – is likely to be different than previous attempts, however.
Democrats lack any way to influence the redraw
For the second cycle in a row, Republicans swept every statewide judicial race in North Carolina. As a result, the Supreme Court of North Carolina – which as recently as 2020 had a 6-1 Democratic majority – will now have a 5-2 Republican majority. This majority, led by Chief Justice Paul Newby, is all but certain to throw out the novel legal theory the prior court used to declare gerrymandering illegal in North Carolina. Federal courts, meanwhile, seem increasingly unlikely to consider VRA cases – and it’s debatable whether any seat in North Carolina truly qualifies as a VRA seat any more.
The lack of a check at the judicial level means that compromises the legislature made in previous redraws – such as adding a Triad-based 6th district in 2020 – won’t be likely to happen again. Republicans are all but certain to draw out three Democrats, and perhaps a fourth. Democrats Kathy Manning (NC-06), Jeff Jackson (NC-14), and Wiley Nickel (NC-13) will face virtually insurmountable odds in 2022 – and Don Davis (NC-01) is likely to be on the chopping block as well.
The likely districts
While the exact nature of the legislature’s new map can’t be entirely predicted, the three Democratic vote sinks are obvious: Republicans will certainly draw a district entirely in Mecklenburg County, a district entirely in Wake County, and a district entirely based in the Research Triangle. This means that Democrats Alma Adams, Deborah Ross, and Valerie Foushee should be safe.
If I had to guess, the new districts might look something like the map above – they would have voted for Joe Biden by margins of 35% (NC-02) 46.5% (NC-04), and 51.1% (NC-12). Additionally, I don’t expect major changes to NC-11 – although I wouldn’t be shocked if Republicans redraw the current seat to make it slightly more Republican, trading ruby-red Rutherford and Polk for blood-red Avery and Mitchell. This would shift the seat about a point to the right, from Trump+10 to Trump+11.
The NC-01 conundrum
Perhaps the single biggest question mark is what Republicans decide to do with NC-01. As northeastern North Carolina has shifted right, so has this traditionally-Democratic Black access seat. Even the current version, which voted for Joe Biden by 7.3%, only backed Cheri Beasley – a Black Democrat – by 0.2% in the Senate race. The original Republican map that was struck down featured a district that would have voted for Biden by 2.4%. This is about five points redder than the current seat, or slightly more than the margin of victory Democrat Don Davis had over Republican Sandy Smith in the current district.
This clear trend means it’s actually very possible that NC-01 will remain somewhat competitive; I would expect Republicans to draw a seat somewhere between Biden+2 and Trump+2. Because the trend here is so strong, Republicans can likely bank on the seat flipping immediately or almost immediately, and then being held for the rest of the decade after it flips. Moreover, keeping this district competitive on paper means there would be more red votes to redistribute throughout the rest of the state – specifically to shore up the Raleigh area, which is drifting left.
While previous cycles have seen lawsuit after lawsuit over the 1st district, the odds of a successful VRA suit now are slim to none. 2017’s Cooper v. Harris ruling rejected a version of the 1st district that was drawn to be majority-black, and a 2019 lawsuit threw out a version of the seat that included the Democratic stronghold of Durham County, which has a large Black population.
The rest of the state
It’s not too difficult to guess how the remainder of the state might be drawn. Under past maps, Republicans have strung out districts from Charlotte to Fayetteville, split the Piedmont Triad into two or three separate seats, and overwhelmed the Raleigh suburbs with blood-red rurals. Republicans will likely prioritize three things:
- Protecting incumbents.
- Giving all districts double-digit margins.
- Giving the primary suburban Meck and Wake seats districts that have high double-digit margins.
None of these are difficult to accomplish. In fact, it’s surprisingly easy to meet all three criteria:
This map relies on a few assumptions: specifically, that Republicans take into account trends from the 2022 midterms, that incumbents are willing to take in a bit more blue turf, and that securing districts 13 and 14 long-term will be major priorities.
Specifically, I expect that Republicans will be willing to accept comparatively competitive seats for Dan Bishop (NB09) and Richard Hudson (NC08) in order to strengthen their odds of unseating Jackson and Nickel and holding the seats for the rest of the decade. Republican trends in the east, meanwhile, are so favorable that a districts like NC03 (Greg Murphy), at “only” Trump+13.8%, should still be very safe even a decade from now.
To be clear – this map is not a prediction. Rather, think of it as a rough guideline of the factors the North Carolina General Assembly is likely to consider. I do think the final map might be very different in some regards, but I expect the factors considered by the legislature to be the same as the ones I considered.