Raleigh, N.C. — The changed landscape of North Carolina's congressional map is setting the stage for a bruising Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District.
The General Assembly on Friday approved an overhaul of congressional voting districts in response to a court order after a panel of three federal judges ruled that lawmakers improperly drew two of the state's 13 U.S. House districts five years ago.
The judges ruled Feb. 5 that lawmakers relied too heavily on the race of voters to create the boundaries of the 1st Congressional District, which sprawls across northeastern North Carolina, and the 12th Congressional District, which stretches along Interstate 85 between Charlotte and Greensboro.
Because those two districts border so many others, lawmakers had to adjust districts across the eastern two-thirds of North Carolina. One of the biggest changes was to shift the 13th Congressional District about 100 miles to the west, moving it from the eastern edges of the Triangle to the Piedmont Triad and points west.
That move put Republican 13th District Congressman George Holding into the Democratic-leaning 4th District, where he would have to face longtime Congressman David Price.
But Holding appears to prefer his chances in a primary against Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers.
Carter Wrenn, a veteran GOP strategist who is working with the Holding campaign, said Friday that Holding lives a few miles from the new boundaries for the 2nd District and could easily represent the area.
The redrawn district includes Harnett, Franklin and Nash counties, along with much of Wake County outside of Raleigh, northern Johnston County and western Wilson County. Wrenn noted that the existing 13th District includes northern Wake County, southern Franklin and Nash counties and much of Wilson County.
"He's represented more of these folks than she has," he said, referring to voters in the new district.
Congressional candidates aren't required to live in the district they represent, but it does make it easier to identify with the community.
Ellmers' campaign spokesman Patrick Sebastian called a Holding foray into the 2nd District "pretty aggressive."
"It's unfortunate what happened to him," Sebastian said of the 13th District shift. "But going into another district to run against an incumbent is aggressive."
Ellmers is already introducing herself to voters in the redrawn district, some of whom she represented during her first term in office before state lawmakers changed the congressional map in 2011, Sebastian said. At the same time, he said, she continues to campaign in the current 2nd District in advance of the March 15 primary.
Republican legislative leaders continue to hold out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will stay the court order requiring the new map and will allow the primary to proceed with the existing districts. So, they have adopted legislation that will allow congressional primaries to be held next month, and if no stay is granted by March 15, all votes in those races will be thrown out, and a special primary will be held June 7 with the new districts.
"As with all things political, it's messy," Wrenn said.
The revamped 2nd District also drew all of Ellmers' existing opponents in the Republican primary out of the district, prompting anger from at least one.
"I have to say, that is some impressive incumbent protection, whether by design or not," Frank Roche, a financial trader and conservative talk radio host from Cary, said in a statement.
Republican candidates Kay Daly of Moore County and Jim Duncan of Chatham County also no longer live in the reconstituted 2nd District. Tim D'Annunzio also is seeking the GOP nomination in the district although he lives in the 7th Congressional District.
"Seven of the nine counties I've been working in for the past 10 months are now in different congressional districts," Roche said. "Like other campaigns, my team and I have done a whole lot of work gaining voter support, put thousands of miles on the odometer, made campaign expenditures for events materials and ads, and my volunteers have put in dozens of hours on campaign activities, seemingly all for nothing. I feel badly for voters impacted by this, the volunteers, donors and every candidate caught up in this."
"Everybody has a reason to complain," Sebastian said of the chaos caused by the last-minute redistricting. "It is what it is."