Raleigh, N.C. — While there are at least a dozen North Carolina legislative campaigns that could be really close this fall, political observers say there are few surprises on tap in Tar Heel State congressional campaigns.
Despite the U.S. Senate campaign here being one of the most competitive in the country, the new legislative districts drawn by Republican-led legislative majorities in 2011 render the state's congressional campaigns largely noncompetitive, according to analysts such as Charlie Cook, a nationally known analyst for The Cook Political Report and National Journal. Cook on NC Congressional races
That situation is not unique to North Carolina. During a recent appearance at Elon University, Cook said that 96 percent of all districts represented by Democrats in the U.S. House were districts carried by President Barack Obama in 2012. On the Republican side, 93 percent of GOP-held congressional districts were carried by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
"Now, could you say that Republicans in Raleigh did a number of Democrats in redistricting? Yes. Can you say Democrats in Springfield, Ill., did a number on Republicans in the Illinois redistricting? Yes. That's the way it works," Cook said. "But given where the congressional boundaries are, each side pretty much has the seats God intended them to have."
In North Carolina, the exception to that was the 7th Congressional District, currently held by Congressman Mike McIntyre, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election. McIntyre was always a "blue dog" conservative Democrat, which allowed him to hang onto his seat in 2012 even after the boundaries were redrawn to favor conservatives.
"The McIntyre district was the one that was aberrant," Cook said.
With McIntyre retiring from Congress, his 2012 Republican opponent, former state Sen. David Rouzer, is the odds-on favorite to win the seat.
Wake County among the hot spots on the legislative map Nathan Babcock, political director for the North Carolina Chamber, a pro-business group that is involved in lobbying and endorses candidates, says the relative lack of interest by national players in North Carolina races make sense given the Tar Heel state's track record.
The 2008 political campaign was the recent low-water mark for Republicans, and then-incumbent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole was the most under-performing candidate that year. Still, in 10 of the state's 13 Congressional districts, Dole would have won. The only one of those 10 districts not currently controlled by a Republican is 7th District.
Similarly, Democrats David Price in the 4th District, G.K. Butterfield in the 1st District and Alma Adams in the 12th District are expected to ride tremendous voter registration advantages to victory in November.
Of the Democratic challengers in the Republican-leaning districts, two have garnered attention due to particularly strong campaigns.
Laura Fjeld, a Hillsborough Democrat, is running against Mark Walker, a Greensboro minister, for the 6th Congressional District seat left open by retiring Congressman Howard Coble. Clay Aiken, a singer whose career was launched by "American Idol," is the Democrat challenging Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers.
Cook said Aiken, in particular, impressed reporters and analysts when he visited Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
"This guy was better informed and better prepared than most of the career politician candidates," Cook said. "You wonder whether it's kind of a waste under the circumstances."
The problem that both Fjeld and Aiken face is that most Democrats and Republicans tend to vote with their parties in national campaigns. Even unaffiliated voters have well-defined attitudes that tend to push them toward one party or the other. To follow Babcock's logic, a set of voters that backed the lowest-performing Republican candidate in a bad Republican year – Dole in 2008 – is unlikely to abandon their party, even when an open seat or high-wattage celebrity is in the mix.
"They (the Democrats) would need the prefect environment, the perfect candidates and probably something else," Babcock said.