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After aggressive gerrymandering, a look at what’s next and who is 'toast' in North Carolina

One proposed Congressional map would give Republicans the advantage in 11 of 14 seats.
N.C. General Assembly
One proposed Congressional map would give Republicans the advantage in 11 of 14 seats.

This story first appeared in WFAE reporter Steve Harrison's weekly newsletter. Sign up here to get the news first in your inbox.

North Carolina Republican lawmakers released new maps for Congress and the General Assembly last week.

The state legislative maps look to cement their supermajorities. The congressional map uses some brutal gerrymanders to wipe out at least three Democratic seats, giving the GOP a boost in its efforts to keep the U.S. House in 2024.

This is far from a 9-5 map.

The current congressional map has seven safe Republican seats, six safe Democratic seats and one toss-up. In last year’s election, the Democrats won that swing seat, which created a perfect split between the two parties at 7-7.

One of the proposed maps would give the GOP the clear advantage in 11 of 14 seats. The other would give them the advantage in 10, with one toss-up that leans Democratic.

Conservatives often said last year and this year that the 7-7 map was a gerrymander in favor of Democrats. They pointed to a 2021 analysis by statisticians hired by Democratic-aligned plaintiffs during redistricting lawsuits, who found that a map favoring Republicans 9-5 was the most likely outcome.

So if 9-5 was the most probable way to draw maps, it certainly suggests that 11-3 and 10-3-1 are extremes.

Incredibly efficient packing of Democrats

In the 11-3 map, Republicans corralled Democratic voters into three overwhelmingly blue districts.

Here is Joe Biden’s vote share in the proposed 1st District in Durham and the northeast (73%), the 2nd District in Raleigh (69%) and in the 12th District in Charlotte (74%).

Jeff Jackson acknowledges he is 'toast'

This is no big surprise.

Jackson represents the 14th District, which includes half of Mecklenburg and most of Gaston County. Joe Biden won it easily.

The new 14th will likely stretch to the west and will become very red. In one of the maps, Biden lost the 14th District by 15 percentage points.

In a video posted on social media, Jackson said the new maps mean he’s doomed.

“Two draft maps are out and both of them draw me out of my district and put me in one that’s totally unwinnable,” Jackson said. “If either of these maps become final, it means I’m toast in Congress.”

He has company. Democrat Kathy Manning from Greensboro has seen her seat vanish, as mapmakers divided Guilford County into three districts. Democrat Wiley Nickel of Cary is also on the outside looking in.

Jackson is expected to run for North Carolina attorney general.

What about Tricia Cotham?

She is now in a toss-up House district in Mecklenburg County that Donald Trump won by about two percentage points.

I would argue that with Democrats still seething over her party switch, she would be an underdog in that race.

One option: Congress.

Cotham’s home of Mint Hill is in a new district that stretches east from Mecklenburg County to Union, Anson, Richmond and Scotland counties and beyond.

It’s a safe Republican seat. It’s also an open seat, with Dan Bishop leaving to run for North Carolina attorney general.

But Cotham would have to win the GOP primary first.

Rep. Tricia Cotham (right) explains her party switch at a press conference in Raleigh.
Steve Harrison
Rep. Tricia Cotham (right) explains her party switch at a press conference in Raleigh on April 5, 2023.

Besides Jackson, who else is in danger?

Shifting to the General Assembly, Democratic state Sen. Natasha Marcus of Davidson appears to be in deep trouble. She has been “double-bunked” with Republican Sen. Vickie Sawyer of Iredell County in a safe Republican seat.

Unless the map changes, she is probably out of the legislature.

The same goes for first-term Democratic House member Diamond Staton-Williams of Cabarrus County. Before Cotham switched parties to give the GOP a super-majority in the House, Staton-Williams’ surprise victory prevented the GOP from total control.

Now she’s in a district with more Republicans. Like Marcus, she also may be doomed.

The GOP tries to gain a foothold in Mecklenburg with a creatively-drawn district

Mecklenburg County has five Senate seats that are totally within the county. Democrats have all of them.

There are 13 House seats in the county. Republicans have two of them, although Cotham won hers as a Democrat.

We have already mentioned how the GOP worked to draw a second winnable House seat in the county. They are also trying for a winnable state Senate seat.

Senate District 42 (in orange) is a very creative draw:

Map of Mecklenburg districts
Redistricting maps
North Carolina General Assembly
The GOP is working hard to create a winnable state Senate seat in Mecklenburg.

It starts with Mint Hill and Matthews and then grabs the most Republican-friendly precincts in south Charlotte. It appears that the district is balancing Myers Park on its feet!

But even with all that effort, Biden still won Senate District 42 by six percentage points, 52% to 46%. Democrats will be favored to hold this seat.

The new House and Senate maps would solidify Republican supermajorities, not necessarily expand them

The North Carolina Constitution puts a bit of a brake on gerrymandering of state House and Senate maps through the “whole county rule,” which mandates that counties must be kept intact, when possible. That limits the creativity of mapmakers and prevents a near-total wipeout of Democrats.

Under the proposed new House map, if Democrats performed as well as Biden did in 2020, they would win 49 seats to the GOP’s 71.

Republicans currently have 72 seats and the Democrats have 48.

However, there are five seats with razor-thin margins when results are analyzed through Biden and Trump. Biden “won” three of those toss-up seats, which means they could easily fall to 46 House seats in a bad year.

The state Senate currently has 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

If Democratic candidates did as well as Biden in 2020, Democrats would again win 20 seats and Republicans would win 30. However, there are three toss-up seats, two of which were won by Democrats.

That means in a bad year for Democrats they could easily fall to just 18 members.

What can the Democrats do?

With the GOP having a 5-2 advantage on the North Carolina Supreme Court, a lawsuit in state court is a likely dead end.

Their best bet: Challenging the maps in federal court under the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court earlier this year invalidated Alabama’s congressional map, which had just one district in which a Black candidate had a realistic chance to win. There are seven districts in the state. Alabama’s population is 27% Black.

North Carolina Democrats will argue the new maps disenfranchise Black voters. They could point to one congressional map that double-bunks two Black Democrats, Valerie Foushee and Don Davis.

Republicans will likely argue that the map gives Black candidates the opportunity to win three or four seats out of 14. That’s between 21 and 28% of possible seats. North Carolina’s Black population is about 22% of the state.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
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