NC congressional candidates jockey for position as new voting maps face judicial review

Democrats could see a modest boost if a state court approves a redrawn U.S. House plan that the state's Republican-controlled legislature recently passed

Posted Updated

Bryan Anderson
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — It didn’t take long for North Carolina’s aspiring congressional candidates to stake claim to districts in a U.S. House voting map that a panel of judges will evaluate for approval next week.

Hours after lawmakers approved the redrawn congressional map Thursday, conservative political newcomer Bo Hines said he would seek the Republican nomination for a highly competitive Greensboro-area seat. By morning Friday, former GOP U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers had said she would run against him.

Meanwhile, will-he-won’t-he speculation swirled around state House Speaker Tim Moore, who issued a statement suggesting he might enter the race for the 14th Congressional District—a reversal after the Republican said in November he would seek reelection in the state House.

The revised map was Republicans’ response to a Supreme Court order this month that directed the GOP to redraw boundaries for congressional and legislative districts. The court ruled that the boundaries constituted unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.
The congressional map passed by lawmakers this week is projected to give the GOP a 10-4 edge in Congress. It could also be revised yet again if a panel of judges in Wake County Superior Court determines that it doesn't comply with the high court’s order. Judges could even accept maps put forward Friday by the voting rights groups that successfully challenged Republicans’ initial voting maps.

Here are some of the biggest congressional developments since the GOP’s maps were passed by lawmakers.

6th Congressional District. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning is waiting to see whether the trial court approves the new voting map before she decides whether to seek reelection. Under the new map, the district is highly competitive.
Hines and Ellmers will vie for the Republican nomination in the district that stretches from Greensboro to Harnett County, a rural area south of Raleigh.

Both tout their personal connections to former President Donald Trump. Ellmers boasted she was the first female member of Congress to endorse Trump ahead of the 2016 primary, while Hines in December traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss potential districts he and other Republicans could pursue.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Walker, a former Greensboro-area congressman seen as a potential congressional candidate for the new seat, did not respond to requests for comments on his next steps politically.

Ellmers, a Dunn resident who now works to administer COVID-19 tests to North Carolinians, said she had represented most counties in the 6th district and lives in the district, while Hines noted he has lived in the Greensboro region for several years.

“My approach is very simple: I'm running a grassroots campaign,” Ellmers said. “When we have limited time, I'm going to get out there to the voters as often as I possibly can, and make my case.”

In an early sign of how contentious the primary battle might be, Ellmers accused Hines of district-shopping, saying he has searched for a district longer than his single-season stint as a wide receiver at N.C. State before transferring to an Ivy League school.

“I realize he played football for N.C. State, but he's actually been searching out a district to run in in North Carolina longer than he was on the field at N.C. State and then left us for Yale,” Ellmers said. “He has a history of better-dealing folks in North Carolina."

Hines transferred to Yale University after his freshman year at N.C. State. In August 2017, he told the Hartford Courant he would like to run for a North Carolina congressional seat in the Charlotte area.

Rob Burgess, a senior adviser to Hines’ campaign, said that Hines “has not wavered from running to represent this area of the state since he first announced his intent to replace Congressman Ted Budd.”

In an interview Thursday, Hines criticized members of Congress with more moderate views.

“Most of these members’ goal was just to be a career politician,” Hines said. “The people that I've aligned myself with don't have that same aspiration. The only true aspiration they have is really to serve the people they represent.”

He has the backing of Club for Growth, an influential Washington, D.C., political action committee that has committed itself to spending $10 million to support U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd.

He is also supported by controversial Republicans, including North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

11th and 14th Congressional Districts: Cawthorn, the nation’s youngest congressman, would be in a more favorable political environment if he remained in the 11th district, North Carolina’s westernmost seat, than if he ran in the new 14th located outside Charlotte.

Moore, the house Speaker, said in a statement Thursday that he is considering a run in the 14th district. In November, he decided not to run for a congressional seat that was widely believed to be carved out for him after Cawthorn announced he would run in the district.

The redrawn 14th district could be the state’s most competitive general election in 2022, making it potentially unattractive to Cawthorn.

Cawthorn did not respond to a request for comment on his future political plans. Moore’s office reiterated a statement it made on Thursday expressing the speaker’s openness to running for U.S. House but noting that he still wants to see the trial court approve the map before he gets ahead of himself.

13th Congressional District: The new 13th district slightly leans in favor of Republicans but is expected to be among North Carolina’s most competitive races. If the map holds up in court, Democratic state Sen. Wiley Nickel said Friday that he’d run in the area that stretches from the surrounding Raleigh area through the Trump-heavy counties of Johnston, Sampson, Duplin and parts of Wayne.
7th Congressional District: The new 7th Congressional District covers the Sandhills region of North Carolina.

State Rep. John Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican, was considered the frontrunner in the GOP primary in the former 4th district. It was mostly rural and favorable to a Republican candidate.

But Cumberland County, which includes the city of Fayetteville, is now part of the 7th district and is home to GOP incumbent U.S. Rep. David Rouzer. Szoka was one of only two Republicans in the legislature to oppose the maps.

Democratic state Sen. Ben Clark could vie for the Democratic Party’s nomination, given he announced a run for a U.S. House seat in a nearby area under the November map.

Other districts: GOP incumbents Virginia Foxx and Dan Bishop will run for reelection in the 5th and 9th districts, respectively. Both seats are likely to safely go for the Republicans.
WRAL Statehouse Reporter Paul Specht contributed to this report.


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