This is another piece in a series regarding the 'state of the 2020 election' when it comes to the dynamics of North Carolina as we approach the November 3rd General Election. Prior to Election Day, we'll have companion pieces for the NC state house, gubernatorial, and presidential contests in the Old North State.
The First Congressional District, by Whitney Ross Manzo
The First Congressional District of North Carolina is in the northeastern part of the state, along the Virginia border, covering all or parts of 15 counties. The largest cities in the district include Wilson, Rocky Mount, and parts of Greenville (the other half of Greenville is in the 3rd District). It has been represented by Democrat G.K. Butterfield since 2004.
Butterfield has a legacy in North Carolinian politics; his father helped found the Wilson NAACP and was elected to the Wilson City Council in 1953, becoming the first Black person elected in eastern North Carolina since Reconstruction. Butterfield himself was a prominent civil rights attorney and served as a Superior Court judge and on the North Carolina Supreme Court prior to being elected to Congress. Since 2006, when he ran unopposed, Butterfield has won each election handily with roughly 70% of the vote. For the 2020 election he is running against Republican Sandy Smith, a political newcomer from Winterville.
The 1st district is largely rural, with 44% of its residents living in a rural area (this is second only to the 3rd District). It has the highest percentage of registered Democrats in the state, with 52% of its residents identifying as Democratic, and it also has the largest Black population in the state at 44%, which is nearly equal to the White population (47%). There are slightly more women and older North Carolinians in this district than the average for the state.
One interesting tidbit about this district is that, while in 2016 it went for Hillary Clinton 67-30, out of the six counties in North Carolina considered “pivot counties”- places that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but then voted for Donald Trump in 2016- two of them are in this district (Martin and Gates). At the same time, though, Trump did 2 points worse than Romney did, district-wide. The Cook Political Report rates this district as 17 points more Democratic than the nation, which fits with its number of registered Democrats and Butterfield's popularity. Because of these things, despite the fact that the 1st district lost some Democratic voters to the 4th District as a result of the district maps being redrawn after 2018, it would be a surprise if this district went Republican in November.
The Second Congressional District, by Whitney Ross Manzo
The Second Congressional District of North Carolina has gone through many changes since 2010, when North Carolina gained a seat in the House of Representatives and needed to redistrict. The map following 2010 had the district southwest of the Triangle, in a bizarre U-shape surrounding the 4th district, covering parts of nine counties. Republican Renee Ellmers was the district’s representative during that time. After this map was challenged in court, the General Assembly drew a new map for the 2016 election that put the 2nd district mostly east and north of Raleigh, curving down to include Harnett County. This new map pitted Ellmers against Republican George Holding, who had represented the 13th district (which had been to the north and east of Raleigh and was now moved to north of Charlotte). Holding won, and has represented the 2nd district since then.
However, the district map for North Carolina has been challenged successfully again, so for the 2020 election, the 2nd district will only cover the southwestern two-thirds of Wake County. This huge change in the makeup of the district moves it from leaning Republican to likely Democratic, which is at least partly why Holding decided not to seek re-election. The candidates on the ballot for this fall are Democrat Deborah Ross, Republican Alan Swain, and Libertarian Jeff Matemu.
The district is majority suburban (56%) and majority White (61%). It has the largest percentage of non-Hispanic Asians in the state- four times the state average- who are the fastest growing minority group in North Carolina. It also trends a bit younger than the rest of the state, with 41% of residents being Millennial or Gen Z; only the 12th District is younger. As of August 1, 2020 the district’s residents are registered 39% Unaffiliated, 37% Democratic, and 23% Republican. (Remember, younger generations have moved away from official party affiliations but still tend to vote Democratic.)
The Cook Political Report’s PVI score for this district is plus seven for the Republicans, but the last time the PVI was updated was 2017. A better way to understand the new district is to compare how the old district actually voted in the 2016 presidential election to how it would have voted were the current lines in place. In 2016, District 2 went +11.5 for Trump; with the new lines, District 2 is +24.4 for Clinton. That is a swing of 35.9 points! This explains why most political watchers have the 2nd district turning Democratic, even if a "blue wave" ends up not materializing.
The Third Congressional District, by Michael Bitzer
The Third Congressional District of North Carolina stretches down the Atlantic coast of the state, from the most northeastern counties of Currituck and Camden down to Onslow County and into the coastal plains region of the state. Between 1995 and 2019, the district was represented by Republican Walter B. Jones, Jr., whose father had previously served as the Democratic congressman from the First Congressional District. Jones had such a strong hold on the district that in 2018, no Democratic candidate challenged him. Upon Jones' passing in March 2019, the district elected Republican Greg Murphy in a special election held in September, 2019, to complete Jones' term in office. Murphy was re-nominated in the March 2020 primary and will face African American Democratic challenger Daryl Farrow in November's general election.
The Third is primarily a rural district, with 48 percent of its registered voters living in a rural county, the highest percentage of any congressional district in North Carolina. Only 15 percent live in an urban central city, with another 29 percent within an urban county. The district gave Republican Donald Trump 61 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 36 percent, with a party registration breakdown on August 1, 2020, of 34 percent registered Republican, 34 percent registered Unaffiliated, and 31 percent registered Democratic. The district's registered voters are more white/non-Hispanic than the state (70 percent to 65 percent in the state), with nearly an identical population of Black/African American registered voters to the state's percentage of 21 percent and an identical percentage of Hispanic/Latino voter as to the state (3 percent). Finally, the Third is one of the older districts in the state, with 43 percent of its registered voters being Boomers or older, compared to the state percentage of 38 percent. The district is home to several military bases, including Marine Corp Base Camp Lejeune and Air Station Cherry Point.
With the 2016 presidential election giving the district a Republican base of at least 60 percent, with the Cook Political Report rating the district a Republican +12 Partisan Voter Index, meaning it is twelve points more Republican than the nation as whole, making it the third most Republican district in the state. It will be a surprise come the November election if Democrats were to win this district; if they did, it would likely herald a much larger blue wave than anyone would realize at this point in time.
The Fourth Congressional District, by Whitney Ross Manzo
The Fourth Congressional District of North Carolina has been drawn to be a solidly Democratic district in the Triangle area since 2010, though its lines have changed through each map iteration. Since 1997, it has elected former Duke University professor David Price as its representative. From 2010-2016, it was an inkblot of a district that was centered on Chapel Hill and Hillsborough but had one tendril reaching out to Raleigh and another snaking all the way south to outside of Fayetteville. After 2016, it was consolidated to include mostly just central Wake County and all of Orange County. For the 2020 election, it has shifted a bit to include all of Orange, Durham, Granville, and Franklin counties and part of Wake, Chatham, and Vance counties. This change has made the district a bit more Republican and rural; Franklin County is solidly Republican and Granville County is one of the aforementioned “pivot counties” that has morphed over time from voting Democratic to voting Republican. Price is currently being challenged by Republican Robert Thomas.
The 4th district is nearly half urban/city, with a further 31% suburban. It is 59% White and 24% Black, and is second only to the 2nd district in number of non-Hispanic Asian residents. It has slightly more Millennial voters than the state average, and slightly lower Boomer and Silent generation voters than the state average. Regarding partisanship, 45% of its residents are registered Democrats, while 35% are registered Unaffiliated and only 19% are registered Republican (tied with the 12th district for lowest percentage Republican in the state).
The Cook Political Report puts this district at 17 points more Democratic than the nation. In 2016, the district went 68-27 for Clinton- tied again with the 12th district for the highest percentage of votes she received in North Carolina. Trump did 7 points poorer than Romney did here, the biggest loss for the Republican presidential candidate in the state. Price hasn’t been seriously challenged since 2010, when his Republican opponent earned 43% of the vote; since then, Price has won comfortably with anywhere between 68-75% of the vote. For these reasons, the 4th district is considered a safe Democratic win, despite its new Republican additions.
The Fifth Congressional District, by Chris Cooper
In its current form, the fifth congressional district runs from North Carolina’s border with Virginia and Tennessee South to the border with South Carolina. It includes the entirety of Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga, Wilkes, Alexander, Caldwell, Burke, Gaston and Cleveland Counties, along with the half of Rutherford County that does not fall in the 11th. The recent redistricting created a 5th district that is considerably friendlier to the Republican Party than it was in the previous version. Under the previous district lines, 57.4% of the district voted for Donald Trump in 2016; under the new lines, that number skyrocketed to 67.2%, making it the third most Republican friendly district in the state.
Virginia Foxx has represented the 5th since 2005 and in her 8 previous runs for Congress has never faced a serious challenge at the voting booth (her average margin of victory is over 18%). According to her DW nominate score (the sine qua non of congressional voting scores), Foxx’s voting record in the last congressional session was more conservative than 90 percent of chamber and 80% more conservative than the Republicans who currently serve.
Foxx’s opposition in the 2020 race are Democrat David Wilson Brown and Constitution Party member Jeff Gregory. Brown previously ran for office in 2018 in the tenth congressional district where he was beaten 59.3 to 40.7 by Republican incumbent Patrick McHenry. Gregory has run several times, most recently in the 2018 Republican primary.*
Foxx has never faced a competitive election and there’s little reason to believe that 2020 will be any different. While Foxx has raised nearly 1.7 million dollars, Brown has raised less than $55,000 and neither the Cook Political Report nor Sabato’s Crystal Ball deem it to be competitive. In a district that includes Boone, it’s worth noting that upsets do happen (see Appalachian State’s 2007 football victory over the University of Michigan), but a Democrat winning the 5th district as it is currently comprised, with a significant fundraising deficit, combined with the traditional advantage afforded incumbents running for re-election would make Appalachian State’s gridiron victory look like just another Saturday.
The Sixth Congressional District, by Michael Bitzer
If NC's Sixth Congressional District had remained with the same lines that included rural counties like Rockingham, Caswell, and Person, one could describe the Sixth as akin to the Third, in that a Republican, especially the current incumbent Mark Walker, would easily hold the Sixth. But as one of the major revisions from the previous map, the Sixth has gone from what could be described as a solid Republican district to a very likely Democratic district.
The current Sixth has been consolidated to include two urban counties: seventy percent of Forsyth County, with Winston-Salem, and all of Guilford, with Greensboro. That makes the Sixth the second most 'central city' urban district in the state, behind Mecklenburg's Twelfth Congressional District's 75 percent of central city voters and ahead of the Fourth District, with just about half of its voters in Raleigh.
This shift in territory and urbanized voters is markedly shown in the district's voter party registration breakdown: 44 percent are registered Democrats, 31 percent are unaffiliated, and not even a quarter (24 percent) are registered Republicans. For most legislative districts, having a GOP registration of in the neighborhood of a third to 35 percent is often required for a district to become Republican. And in the new Sixth, the 2016 presidential results are a flip from the Third's, with Clinton receiving 60 percent to Trump's 38 percent.
Since the district changed so dramatically to the Democrats, it was no surprise that conservative Republican incumbent Mark Walker opted out of seeking re-election to that district. On the Democratic side, former 13th Congressional District challenger Kathy Manning secured the Sixth's Democratic nomination. She should be no stranger to those who live in Guilford County, since the previous version of the 13th stretched into Greensboro. On the Republican side, Lee Haywood earned the party's nomination, having served as the district's GOP chairman.
With this shift to the Democrats, the Cook Political Report has classified this formerly Republican, now open seat as now "Likely Democratic" (the other former GOP and now open seat is the NC Second), and unless there is a substantial Republican wave (which hasn't been talked about any all seriously for November), Democrats will likely gain this seat to their caucus numbers.
The Seventh Congressional District, by Michael Bitzer
The Seventh Congressional District is a more surrounding suburban county district, stretching from Raleigh suburban county of Johnston down to the southeastern tip of North Carolina with Wilmington. Republican incumbent David Rouzer finally won this district following the retirement of conservative Democrat Mike McIntyre, who defeated Rouzer in the 2012 general election by only 654 votes. With the seat becoming an open contest in 2014, Rouzer ran again and easily won in 2014 with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
The district provided Donald Trump with the same margin that Rouzer claimed in his second attempt; it voted 59 percent for Trump, due a majority of its voters residing in surrounding suburban counties (most notably Johnston County, to the immediate south-east of Wake County) and with only 15 percent of its constituents being in an urban central city (Wilmington). The district is 43 percent Boomer and Greatest/Silent generations, with only 31 percent Millennial and Generation Z. Party registration is fairly closely divided, with registered Republicans at 35 percent, unaffiliated at 34 percent, and Democrats at 31 percent. However, many of this registered Democrats may be hold-overs who are registered with one party, but vote for the other (Republican).
Rouzer is facing Democratic challenger Christopher Ward, who is running for the first time for public office. Much like other strongly Republican districts, it would take a significant Democratic wave to make this district competitive.
The Eighth Congressional District, by Susan Roberts
The Eighth Congressional District was redrawn in October 2019, and includes all of Cabarrus, Stanley, Montgomery, and Cumberland counties and parts of Moore, Lee, and Hanover counties. The largest city in the district is Fayetteville, which includes Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military base in terms of population. The final redrawing of district lines in 2019 is what makes this seat now highly competitive.
Holding office since 2013, incumbent Republican Richard Hudson is challenged by Democrat Patricia Timmons-Goodson, the first African American woman on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Timmons-Goodson current serves as Vice-Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. While many consider the Eighth District to be a long held Republican district, Democrat Bill Hefner, owner of a gospel radio station, represented the district for 12 terms (January 1975 to January 1999), longer than the number of terms of Republican Robin Hayes (5), Democrat Larry Kissell (2), and Republican Richard Hudson (4) combined. Robin Hayes won his fifth and final term in 2006 when a second recount gave him the win over Larry Kissell by a 329 vote margin. Kissell went on to beat Hayes by a 10 percent margin. Former Chair of the NC Republican Party, Hayes plead guilty in September of 2019 of lying to the FBI in a bribery scandal.
The newly redrawn Eight District skews more rural than the state as whole (31% to 21%) and the fifth highest in the state. Roughly the same numbers of voters are Urban/Central City (26%) as are Surrounding Suburban (28%). The district has more registered Democrats than Republicans. According to August 2020 voter records, 36% voters are registered Democrats, 33% percent registered Unaffiliated, and 31 % registered Republicans. Overall, the Eighth is more racially diverse than the state. Broken down by race, the district has a lower percentage of voters identifying as white/non-Hispanic as the state average (56% to 65 %), and a higher percentage of voters identifying as Black/African Americans (27% to 21%). The Hispanic/Latino registered voters slightly outnumber those statewide. The eighth varies little from the state numbers in terms of age, with Baby Boomers constituting the largest cohort in the district (34%).
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) considers the Eighth as one of its forty-seven “offensive battleground” districts. Three other districts in North Carolina, the 2nd, the 9th and the 13th, are also ones where the Democratic party intends to put resources in terms of paid organizers and as planned pre-Covid 19, grassroots efforts.
By all accounts, the Eighth District is shaping up to be very competitive. As of August 11, 2020, three national election trackers classify the district as “Lean Republican.” The Cook Political Report has classified the Eighth as “leaning” since July 21, 2020. Both Inside Elections and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved their July projections from “Likely Republican to “Lean Republican” as well. Given the redrawn lines, it is difficult to project the outcome of this race, but national indicators suggest both parties are putting resources in the Eight District.
The Ninth Congressional District, by Susan Roberts
Trump carried the newly redrawn seat 53 percent to 43 percent in 2016, but anything touching Mecklenburg County increasingly looks like a disaster area for the GOP. ... The race is flying under the radar, but Democrats' lack of spending doesn't necessarily prohibit Wallace from pulling off an upset.
The Tenth Congressional District, by Chris Cooper
Patrick McHenry’s home district has changed significantly since the last time he ran for Congress. The previous district lines included Catawba, Lincoln, Gaston, Cleveland, Rutherford, and Polk Counties along with a small part of Iredale County. Most notably, at least from a cultural perspective, the 10th included almost all of Asheville. McHenry clearly adapted to this geographic constituency, even co-chairing the small brewer’s caucus, and becoming a vocal supporter of Asheville’s prominent craft beer community. Not only did the new lines move McHenry out of Asheville, but it placed the 5th district in between McHenry and Beer City, USA. The “new 10th” extends farther East than the old district and now draws in some of the Triad exurbs.
While McHenry’s district has changed, the change benefited him. Whereas McHenry previously represented a district that voted 61% of the time with Donald Trump, the “new” district gave 67.8% of its support to Donald Trump in 2016. In its current form, it is the most Trump-friendly district in the state of North Carolina.
During McHenry’s time in office, he has established himself as a quiet, conservative leader in the House of Representatives. According to his DW-Nominate score (a method of scoring roll-call voting in Congress), in the last congressional session, McHenry’s voting record was more conservative than 82% of the House of Representatives and 61% of the Republicans in the House.
McHenry’s opponent is Democrat David Parker, a defense attorney and former chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. McHenry has raised almost 2.5 million dollars over the course of the campaign, over 1.9 million of which are from individual contributions. Parker has raised just under $26,000. Every major political handicapping and forecasting organization lists the 10th as a district that should remain in Republican hands. Anything could happen on election day, but if Wilson were to unseat McHenry, it would doubtless be the biggest upset of November 2020.
The Eleventh Congressional District, by Chris Cooper
Perhaps the most interesting congressional election in North Carolina is taking place in the Western-most district in the state. There is no incumbent running in the 11th as the previous incumbent, Republican Mark Meadows, left before his term ended to become the 4th Chief of Staff to President Trump. The timing of Meadows’ departure created a chaotic rush for folks to announce their candidacy. Meadows endorsed Haywood County real estate agent Lynda Bennett in the Republican primary. While Bennett garnered the most votes in the primary, she did not cross the threshold to avoid a second primary. In a surprise victory, 24 year Old Madison Cawthorn (he turned 25 shortly after the second primary) won the second primary and the Republican nomination. The Democratic field was likewise crowded, featuring five candidates. Although victory was far from assured from the beginning, former Guantanamo Bay Prosecutor Moe Davis ultimately won 47 percent of the vote—enough to secure victory and to avoid a runoff.
In case an open seat and a chaotic primary didn’t create enough uncertainty around the Davis v. Cawthorn race, the candidates had a redistricted 11th congressional district to contend with. Although there were a number of changes to the district lines, the most prominent was that Asheville, the bright blue dot in the middle of Western North Carolina, was brought back into the 11th congressional district (most of it had previously resided in the 10th district). These changes shifted the district from one that voted 63% of the time with Donald Trump (the most Trump-friendly district in the state) to one that gave 57% of its votes to Trump in 2016. In terms of demographics, the 11th has the lowest percentages of African Americans and the highest average age in the state.
Since the General Election began in earnest, Cawthorn has been accused of favoring symbols tied to white supremacy, lying, engaging in “aggressive sexual behavior” and telling a disabled rights advocate to “Chill the f*@# out.” Davis has not escaped controversy, either, as a series of vulgar tweets surfaced—some of which used violent imagery when describing how Democrats should respond to Republicans. Clearly this is not a race to watch for the faint of heart.
Fundraising has been impressive for both candidates with Cawthorn showing a staggering $3.18 Million in receipts and Davis raising just over $1.54 Million. Cawthorn received a fundraising spike during the week of the Republican National Convention, where the 25 year old had a coveted speaking role.
At the beginning of the election cycle, the race was considered almost certain to remain in Republican hands. As national attention has increasingly focused on the 11th, however, some handicappers have moved the race out of the ruby red position where it began. For example, the Cook Political Report moved the district from “likely” Republican to “lean” Republican in October. Decision Desk HQ gives Cawthorn a 58% chance of victory, a number that is close enough that they place it in the “toss-up category.” Cawthorn is the favorite, but this race is a long ways from over.