The political future of two GOP incumbents could be endangered as North Carolina Republican legislators advanced a new congressional district map Thursday in response to a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit.
The reconfigured districts have become necessary since state judges blocked use of the current U.S. House districts for the 2020 elections because they say it’s likely the map was drawn with excessive partisan bias favoring the GOP.
Republicans currently hold 10 of the 13 seats in the North Carolina’s delegation, even though the state is considered a presidential battleground and Democrats remain the state’s largest bloc of registered voters.
The GOP leaders’ proposal would consolidate the districts of GOP Reps. George Holding of Raleigh and Mark Walker of Greensboro around urban Democratic centers, making it harder for them to get reelected. Both Holding’s 2nd Congressional District and Walker’s 6th District are currently a mix of urban, suburban and rural counties that have been considered Republican leaning.
Any map needs both House and Senate approval, which could come later this week. House Redistricting Committee Chairman David Lewis said on Thursday his Senate GOP counterparts support the replacement in principle. Redistricting maps aren’t subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto stamp.
Holding, a former federal prosecutor, is currently in his fourth term in Congress. Walker, a Baptist minister now in his third term, was chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee during the last congressional session. Spokesmen for the two members didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Emphasis on the political performance of replacement districts have been muted in public during this redraw. Legislators agreed that political data and election results wouldn’t be used in drawing potential replacement maps. But it was obvious any alteration would result in at least one Republican House member getting placed in an unfavorable district.
So far, state judges have stopped short of ordering a replacement map, saying they lacked authority at this stage of the lawsuit filed by Democratic and independent voters. But they encouraged the General Assembly to redraw the map on its own to avoid delaying the March 3 congressional primary. The State Board of Elections has said it needs a map by mid-December to do so.
Otherwise, a separate congressional primary, with likely low turnout, would be needed later in the year.
Lewis said the proposal addressed concerns raised by the lawsuit about excessive partisanship and it included input from the public and Democratic colleagues.
“This is a map that has been drawn to equal population that will, I believe, rectify this lawsuit,” Lewis said before it was approved by the House Redistricting Committee in a party-line vote. A full House vote was expected later Thursday.
Democrats still opposed the proposed map despite the likely opportunity to pick up two additional seats, which would help national Democrats maintain their U.S. House majority in the November 2020 elections. They said the configuration still contains districts that are shaped like the old districts that the lawsuit plaintiffs consider to be illegal partisan gerrymanders.
The map keeps too many politically safe districts, said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat.
“The public would like to have some competitive congressional races,” Harrison said, but acknowledged “it’s better that we’ll have more Democrats.”
The 2nd District represented by Holding currently covers all or parts of six east-central counties, including the suburbs around Raleigh. The proposed 2nd would only be in strongly Democratic Wake County. The 6th District would now cover all of Guilford County, which includes Greensboro and part of the county that includes Winston-Salem. Walker’s current district reached north to the Virginia border and south to Randolph County, which is strongly Republican.
Other proposed changes to the map would shuffle the foothills and mountain counties in districts represented by veteran GOP Reps. Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry, both of whom have served in Republican leadership this decade. Both districts appear to remain Republican-leaning.
The far-western 11th District, represented by former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, would take in all of heavily Democratic Asheville. But the district’s reconfiguration still appeared to favor Meadows.
2020 Congressional map proposal / Photo via North Carolina General Assembly