Republicans Try to Even the Score with New North Carolina Lines

by Stuart Rothenberg July 1, 2011 · 12:20 PM EDT

National Republican strategists, still smarting from creative Democratic map-making in Illinois, finally have a reason to smile.

North Carolina Republicans have a new Congressional map that is likely to cost Democrats at least three seats and quite possibly four in 2012.

Republican insiders are particularly proud that the new map isn’t radically different from the current one (for example, all incumbents still live in their districts), and they note that relatively small changes have produced a map that should elect nine or ten Republicans, with just three safe Democratic seats.

GOP strategists maximized their advantage, creating the possibility later in the decade that Democrats could gain back a seat through population changes or even more in another Democratic wave year.

But that won’t be much of a consolation for Democrats in the Tar Heel state, who under the new map will be able to count only three safe seats -- two African American districts, currently held by Rep. Mel Watt and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, and a liberal seat centered in the Chapel Hill-Research Triangle area, currently held Rep. David Price.

In re-drawing the lines, GOP state legislators made some rock solid Republican congressional districts less secure, though all ten of the districts that Republicans expect to win sooner or later gave Republican presidential nominee John McCain at least 55 percent of the vote in 2008.

For example, the districts of four Republicans – Virginia Foxx, Howard Coble, Patrick McHenry and Walter Jones – were carried by John McCain with at least 60 percent of the vote. But under the new lines, McCain won the new districts with just 55 percent to 56 percent of the vote.

Republican insiders note that McCain’s showing in the state was weak, suggesting that in a better Republican year all of the non-safely Democratic districts should perform even better for the GOP.

Democratic Rep. Brad Miller will lose urban Wake County to Butterfield and in return pick up Republican voters in the northwest part of the county, making the district much more Republican. The district will also stretch further west, to Surry County, along the Virginia border. It goes from a 40 percent McCain district to a 55.7 percent McCain district under the new lines.

The new district will include two familiar GOP names, Nathan Tabor and Vernon Robinson, who previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble may look at the race, as well.

But also in the re-drawn district is George Holding, the former U.S. attorney who recently resigned after five years on the job. Holding comes from a prominent family, and insiders see him as a potentially formidable U.S. House candidate if he enters the contest.

Price will lose the southern part of Wake County, with its many Republicans, to freshman Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, whose district goes from a 46 percent McCain to 55.5 percent McCain.

But Price picks up solidly Democratic voters in Fayetteville, who are removed from Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell’s district. Kissell also loses Democrats from Mecklenberg County (Charlotte), making his seat dramatically more Republican (from 47 percent McCain to 55.3 percent McCain). State Rep. Jerry Dockham (R) of Davidsonville is expected to look at running in Kissell’s re-drawn district.

Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler’s 11th C.D. loses most of the city of Ashville, an increasingly liberal area that continues to attract counterculture residents and voters. Those Democratic voters move into conservative Rep. Patrick McHenry’s district. But Republican McHenry, who has been representing a very Republican district, also gains Republican voters from Gaston County.

The new map may well be one reason why Shuler apparently is pursuing opportunities that do not include running for reelection from his western North Carolina district. Shuler’s district goes from a 52 percent McCain district to a 58 percent McCain district after redistricting.

Hendersonville district attorney Jeff Hunt (R) is seriously looking at running in Shuler’s re-drawn district.

Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre also finds himself in a less secure position, although his district is already conservative and Republican-leaning.

According to a knowledgeable GOP insider, McIntyre will be losing some Republicans and getting “different” Republicans, in Onslow and Carteret (Moorhead City) counties, forcing him to introduce himself to voters he doesn’t now represent. The district went 52 percent for McCain in 2008, but McCain received 55.3 percent under the new lines.

McIntyre had a close call in 2010, and his GOP opponent last cycle, Ilario Pantano, has already said that he is considering a re-match.

Two Democrats, Miller and Kissell, seem headed for extinction, while two others, Shuler and McIntyre, will have to struggle to hang onto their seats. If and when both districts become open, Democrats will have a very difficult time winning them.

For more analysis, you read a very detailed analysis of the new map by North Carolina-based John Davis.