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New congressional districts shake up NC politics

Posted November 20, 2021 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2021 10:09 a.m. EST

FILE- U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., asks a question at a Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration during a field hearing on voting rights and election administration issues facing Arizona and the Native American community at Phoenix College, on Oct. 1, 2019, in Phoenix. Butterfield, a Democrat, has announced, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, he'll retire from Congress next year after Republican-drawn map put him in a toss-up district. Butterfield is the second Democratic North Carolina congressman to decide against a reelection bid. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

— New election lines in North Carolina have inspired some of the state’s most prominent politicians to move up, some to move over and some to just move on.

Movement in several of the state's congressional districts could have a trickle-down effect, potentially shrinking the field of U.S. Senate candidates while also creating new opportunities to join political leadership at the state level.

Democratic 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield on Thursday became the latest official to announce his retirement after 17 years in the U.S. House.

His announcement came a week after Republican Madison Cawthorn, a freshman congressman who represents the 11th Congressional District, announced plans to run in the newly drawn 13th Congressional District.

Last month, Democratic 4th District Congressman David Price announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are expected to vie for the congressional vacancies, potentially creating openings in the legislature.

Redistricting is at the center of the shakeup. And some of the expected movement could yet be rendered moot; the newly drawn voting districts are being challenged in court by civil rights groups that say the lines were drawn to illegally favor Republicans.

Butterfield said redistricting was the most significant factor in his decision to retire.

“The congressional map that the Republican legislature handed to us on Nov. 4 is the most extreme piece of legislation that I have ever seen before,” he told WRAL News in an interview on Friday. “The map is gerrymandered. It's politically gerrymandered. It is racially gerrymandered.”

The state legislature is responsible for drawing new voting districts for federal and state races every 10 years to account for population changes. That means the dominant political party draws the maps and can give itself an advantage. Republicans have held a majority for a decade and recently approved new maps without the support of Democrats.

State Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate say they complied with guidelines that forbade them from using election results or “partisan considerations” in drawing new districts, which will go into effect in the next election.

Moving out

With the retirements of Butterfield and Price, the Democrats’ congressional delegation – five out of the 13 representatives – stands to lose several decades-worth of experience.

Democratic 12th District Congresswoman Alma Adams will be the only Democrat seeking re-election in 2022 who served in Congress prior to President Joe Biden’s election. Last year’s wins by 2nd District Congresswoman Deborah Ross and 6th District Congresswoman Kathy Manning were their first.

Manning could face a tough re-election effort; she has been placed in the same district as longtime Republican 5th District Congresswoman Virginia Foxx in the new 11th Congressional District.

The northeastern North Carolina district that Butterfield has represented since 2004 is now considered a toss-up by political experts after leaning more Democratic for years. His departure could set up a primary matchup of former colleagues.

State Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, who is considered a more moderate Democrat, is expected to run. If Davis were to run, it would create a vacancy in the state Senate. Party leaders have been working behind the scenes to discourage primary challengers, but it’s unclear if they’ll be able to clear the field for him.

Former state Sen. Erica Smith says she’s being encouraged to run for Butterfield’s seat. Smith is currently running for U.S. Senate, but records show she has had trouble raising as much money as Democratic candidates Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court chief justice and state Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

“Elected officials and community leaders have been reaching out and urging Senator Smith to run [for Congress],” a spokesperson for Smith said in a statement to WRAL. “She appreciates the support and enthusiasm and is seriously considering running” in the newly created 2nd Congressional District, which is where Butterfield would have likely run had he sought re-election.

Price’s district, which will become the 6th Congressional District on the new map and is expected to stay Democratic, already has several candidates, including state Sens. Valerie Foushee, D-Orange, and Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, which could open up more seats in the state Senate. Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam is also running.

Moving over

The redistricting hasn’t just affected Democrats’ plans. Cawthorn’s move from the 11th District to the new 13th District effectively blocked one of North Carolina’s most powerful politicians from running for the seat.

The 13th District is home to state House Speaker Tim Moore, who was widely expected to run for Congress in that district.

Cawthorn, whose national profile has grown as he has taken extreme positions in line with far-right Republicans, has raised at least $2.4 million this year through Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission records. His move to the 13th District puts him closer to Charlotte, a bigger media market.

Cawthorn announced his plans in a video in which he suggested the 13th Dstrict might otherwise elect “go-along-to-get-along” Republicans, an allegation that former North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said was “insulting” to voters and other elected officials in that area.

Shortly after Cawthorn’s announcement, Moore said he wouldn’t run for Congress.

“I look forward to serving with my colleagues as Speaker of the House of Representatives and securing a super-majority for the Republicans next year,” Moore said in a statement at the time, according to the Associated Press. He added that “much of the speculation about my potential congressional candidacy has been driven by the media and political pundits.”

Meanwhile, former Congressman Mark Walker may join the race for the newly drawn 7th Congressional District, Carolina Journal reported. Walker is running for the U.S. Senate seat that will become vacant when Republican Sen. Richard Burr retires next year, but he may drop out.

Walker lives in the district now represented by Foxx, but his residence isn’t far from the 7th District. In the Senate race, Walker lags behind competitors in fundraising. He has raised just over $500,000, while 13th District Congressman Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory, who are also vying for the Senate seat, have each raised more than $2 million.

Staying put and moving up

Had Moore, R-Cleveland, run and won in the 13th District, he would have created an opportunity for another Republican to move up in state House leadership. Moore’s decision not to run for Congress likely means now that he and state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who isn’t expected to leave his post, will remain at the helm of the legislature.

There could be movement down the ranks, though.

Cawthorn’s move to the 13th District opens up a seat in the far western part of the state that will become the 14th Congressional District under the new maps. North Carolina picked up a 14th seat in the U.S. House because of population growth recorded in the 2020 census.

State Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, essentially second in command behind Berger, R-Rockingham, told N.C. Insider that he may run for Congress in that district. But he may face competition from Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, who is also in that district and is expected to run for the seat.

State Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, the House conference chair, is expected to run for Congress in the new 4th District, which has no incumbent and covers Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston and Sampson counties. That could create an opening in Republican leadership in the state House.

Representatives for Ballard and Szoka didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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