The North Carolina legislature has passed a replacement map ahead of Friday's court-imposed deadline after a federal district court struck down the 1st and 12th Congressional Districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. As expected, the Republican majority simply declared they had dropped the use of race in drawing their new map while still making every effort to maintain an obscene partisan edge in what’s an evenly divided swing state.
Most of the 10 existing Republican districts have become more Democratic, but Mitt Romney still won nine of them by double digits and the tenth seat by 7 points. All three Democratic districts, meanwhile, remain dark blue. The new map might not appear as visually hideous as the previous incarnation, but that simply goes to show that neater lines don't preclude gerrymandering.
Because the filing deadline for the March 15 primary had already passed, legislators have also voted to move all House primaries to June 7. Confusingly, the March primary will still proceed as scheduled for all other races, but votes for the House simply won’t count—unless the Supreme Court issues a belated stay. Lawmakers have also decided to eliminate runoffs, which used to be required in races where no candidate took at least 40 percent of the vote. That change could have a significant impact in a few contests.
Getting to the specifics of the new map, the 1st and 12th Districts have dropped from majority black to plurality white but are still highly likely to elect black voters’ candidates of choice. That doesn’t mean they’ll send the same representatives back to Congess, though. Democratic Rep. Alma Adams faces a tough challenge in the redrawn 12th: While preliminary numbers show 52 percent of her current district has wound up in the new 12th, her base of Greensboro has been sliced out. As a results, Adams will likely face opposition from Charlotte-based candidates such as 2014 primary runner-up, state Sen. Malcolm Graham. Still, against a divided field and with no runoff, Adams could very well prevail nevertheless.
The most endangered incumbent in this map is likely three-term Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, but like Adams, she’s vulnerable in a primary rather than the general election. Ellmers had already drawn the ire of hard-right groups like the Club for Growth, and the new 2nd District contains just 18 percent of Ellmers’ current seat. By contrast, 57 percent comes from the old 13th District of fellow Republican Rep. George Holding, who will likely run there.
In exchange for effectively eliminating Ellmers’ seat, the legislature created a Republican-leaning 13th District near the Piedmont Triad in the north-central part of the state. No current incumbent represents more than 27 percent of the new 13th, and the member who represents that plurality, Adams, definitely won’t run here, so this really is a brand new seat. But while an open seat presents Democrats with their best shot at a pickup, Romney still carried this district by 7 points, and Democrats have few obvious candidates.
All told, this is a very small victory for Democrats against the very worst partisan gerrymander in the nation. Democrats aren’t favored to gain any districts, but it’s not quite as hopeless a prospect compared to the old map. However, this map is not guaranteed to be final. It still has to go back before the federal district court panel for review and Democrats are pledging to contest it.
You can find complete demographic data plus 2008-2014 statewide election results for the new plan here, as well as GIS data here.