Deconstructing NC’s New State House Map

This weekend, Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly released their proposed remaps of the state’s legislative districts.

Here, we’ll be looking through some of their changes to the State House map, which has 120 districts. Here is a statewide PDF of the proposed map and here is the current map.

The districts in western North Carolina (generally, west of I-77) were untouched, so aren’t included here.

Throughout this, I’ll be mentioning a number of statewide candidates, and their performances in some of the new districts. Other than the Presidential results, the statewide races I reference most often are:

  • 2016 Senate: Richard Burr (R) beat Deborah Ross (D) 51.1% to 45.4%
  • 2016 Governor: Roy Cooper (D) beat Pat McCrory (R) 49.0% to 48.8%
  • 2016 Attorney General: Josh Stein (D) beat Buck Newton (R) 50.3% to 49.7%
  • 2016 Secretary of State: Elaine Marshall (D) beat Mike LaPaglia (R) 52.3% to 47.7%
  • 2014 Senate: Thom Tillis (R) beat Sen. Kay Hagan (D) 48.8% to 47.3%

And with that…

We’ll start up in the northeastern corner of the state:

The focal point of this area seat is HD01. There, Rep. Bob Steinburg (R) gets a noticeably harder seat. He trades out strongly Republican Currituck County, on the coast, and gets heavily black Washington and Bertie Counties.

HD01 often leans Democratic, but was rather Trump-curious. It gave President Obama 52/48 wins both times, but went for Trump 52/46. Still, it gave Sen. Hagan a 49/48 win in 2014. This a good pickup opportunity for Democrats, but they’ll need a quality candidate.

To the east, Rep. Beverly Boswell (R) gets safer in her HD06 with the addition of Currituck and Pamlico Counties, while losing Washington County. Last year, she narrowly beat a Democrat who passed away days before the election. In 2008, McCain won the HD-06 by 54/44 – Trump took that up to 63/33.

Moving inland, we have several changes.

Reps. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D) and Susan Martin (R) are both in HD24, which is coterminous with Wilson County. This favors Butterfield. While Wilson County isn’t overwhelmingly Democratic, it’s remarkably consistent. For example, in 2014, Hagan carried it 52/46 while losing statewide by <2%. In the Senate race four years earlier, Marshall lost by 12%, but carried Wilson 52/47.

Martin’s current seat, HD08, is now entirely confined to Pitt County (Greenville). While it’s hard to make out exactly where the new precincts are in HD08, my estimate is that it has a roughly a 40% black population and takes in white liberals from East Carolina University. The result is a district that should give Democrats >60%.

On the other side of Pitt County, Rep. Gregory Murphy (R) is now safer in his HD09. In 2008, his current seat would have voted McCain by about 8% – that margin should be closer to 12-13% under the new lines.

Going south, Rep. George Graham’s (D) HD12 changes rather drastically. He represents a Kinston-based seat that stretches down to the coast. The new 12 is swingy Lenoir County plus a few Republican-tilting precincts from Pitt County. Whites make up a bare 51% majority of Graham’s current seat with blacks at 46% – the balance in the new 12th is 57/37 in favor of whites.

Before 2016, Lenoir County would typically vote Democratic in close statewide races. In the 2014 Senate race, Hagan carried it by 1.5%, but lost the new 12th by about half a point, due to the Pitt precincts. Trump carried the seat 51.4% to Clinton 46.4%. McCrory did slightly better, taking 52.5% to Cooper’s 46.2%. Attorney General Josh Stein (D) lost it by 74 votes. The best-performing 2016 Democrat, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall won by 5% and carried the new 12th by a more comfortable 54/46.

We have an open seat with the new HD79. The majority of the seat, 60%, comes from Beaufort County, with the rest being Craven County (north of New Bern). In HD03, Rep. Mike Speciale (R) gets a more compact seat that is confined to Craven County. HD03 has some minority-heavy precincts in New Bern, and Havelock, but was 56/43 McCain in 2008, and has only reddened since. Both these should be easy Republican holds.

To the west, Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R) gets a somewhat less safe seat. The proposed HD04 is Duplin County plus some heavily Republican precincts in Onslow County. This is a seat that would have easily been Democratic 10-15 years ago, but Dixon should be favored. Duplin County has moved right noticeably since Dixon won his seat, in the 2010 wave. This new seat went to McCain 59/41 in 2008, and gave Trump a stronger 64/35.

Another black incumbent who has a more competitive seat is Larry Bell (D) of HD21. He trades his black-majority seat for a majority-coalition (46% white, 41% black) seat. Almost all (84%) of Bell’s seat is now in Wayne County (mostly Goldsboro proper), with a few precincts from Sampson County remaining. Bell could be vulnerable to a primary challenger from Goldsboro, but the seat should stay Democratic. Last year, Clinton would have won the seat with 57.5% to Trump’s 41%.

In the neighboring seat, HD22, Blue Dog Rep. William Brisson (D) is a survivor. He’s held on as this very ancestrally Democratic seat has moved right. While he gets a marginally more favorable district, it would have still gone 58/40 for Trump. In the near-50/50 Attorney General race, Stein lost it 55/45, though Secretary of State Elaine Marshall carried this new seat with 50.3%.

At the southeastern tip of the state, the four Wilmington-area districts, are unchanged,and should favor their incumbents.

In Pender County, Rep. Chris Mills (R) trades out red precincts in Onslow County for some swingier ones in Columbus County. Columbus County, which was whole in the last map, is now split between Mills and freshman Brendan Jones (R), in HD46, who was obviously shored up. Mill’s district was 55/44 McCain and 64/34 Trump, so is quite safe.

In addition to his parts of Columbus County, Jones takes more precincts from the Desk’s favorite NC county, Robeson. Most of Jones’ Robeson County precincts are white-majority. The Lumbee and black precincts are in the other, more compact, Robeson County seat- HD47, held by Rep. Charles Graham (D).

While Trump carried Jones’ new HD46 63/38, Marshall still carried it 50.3/49.7. Further despite the Lumbee precincts in Graham’s seat going hard right, Clinton held the new HD47 51/47, with Marshall pulling a more typical 65/35 win there.

In the Fayetteville area, the Cumberland County delegation is 3:1 Democratic, and should stay that way. The districts there are, aesthetically, considerably cleaner. The “swing seat” here is HD44, held by Billy Richardson (D). Richardson was appointed in 2015, and won the seat in his own right last year, by just over 1%. In 2008, his current district would have given Obama a 51/48; now, Obama’s margin in this seat would have been closer to 53/46. Even with horrendous turnout in Cumberland County in 2014, Sen. Hagan would have won this new seat 50/46.

In the sandhills region, Rep. Garland Pierce (D) gets a more competitive, and cleaner, district. His new HD48 consists of Hoke and Scotland Counties. Though Republicans made inroads here last year, HD48 still gave Clinton 53% to Trump’s 43.5%.

A more noticeable change, for Democrats, in this region is HD66. Rep. Ken Goodman (D) gets a less-contorted, but more GOP, seat. HD66 is now Richmond and Montgomery Counties plus a few GOP-friendly precincts in Stanly County. While Goodman won a similar version of this seat in 2010 rather easily, it’s moved rightward since. Clinton lost the seat 59/39, with Stein losing by a much closer 7%, though Marshall won it by 2%.

Going north of Fayetteville, incumbents Robert Reives (D) and John Sauls (R) are double-bunked into HD51, which is mostly Lee County. Typically, Democrats only carry Lee County if they win statewide, as it has a Republican lean. Trump and Burr carried it 54/41, though McCrory did by a closer 52/46. HD51’s small holdings in Harnett County are similar shade of red.

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Reives’s old seat, namely Chatham County, is open. In this new HD54, Chatham County, which has a mild but reliable blue lean, is paired with a handful of >70% Democratic precincts from southern Durham. The three other Durham Democrats should be safe in their overwhelmingly favorable seats

Over in Orange County, Rep. Verla Insko (D) has solidly blue Chapel Hill in her HD56. The more competitive seat here is Graig Meyer’s (D) HD50. The majority (about 70%) of the seat still comes from firmly blue Orange County precincts. In this version of HD50, though, he trades his purple Durham precincts for red-trending Caswell County. Overall, the new district would have voted 56/41 for Clinton.

In Wake County, the district to watch should be HD40. Rep. Joe John (D) narrowly flipped the seat last year. His seat gives up some of its blue precincts in the south, and moves more Republican. In 2008, it gave Obama 47.8%; under the new lines, that would have been closer to 46%. Still, Clinton would have carried the new seat by about 1.5%, Cooper by about 3%, though it interestingly would have gone for Buck Newton by a few dozen votes.

Otherwise, the Wake County incumbents are all favored for reelection. One notable change here is how Rep. Nelson Dollar (R) was given a safer district. From southern Wake County, he had a close call in 2016; he won by 3% while Clinton carried his HD36 by 6%. His new district reaches southwest, to hug the border with Johnston County, and takes in several redder precincts.

In the northeastern corner of the Raleigh metro are the pair of Franklin and Nash Counties; they contain HDs 7 and 25. It’s pretty likely that Reps. Bobbie Richardson (D) and Jeff Collins (R) wish they could trade seats. Richardson has all of light-red Franklin County plus five strongly GOP precincts in southern Nash. The result is a district that gave Trump 57.5% to Clinton’s 40%. Even in Marshall would have lost the seat, though by just 18 votes. On the flip side, HD07 is blue-leaning. Clinton carried it 53/45; this is also Gov. Cooper’s home seat, and he carried it by a more comfortable 12%.

In the Triad, nothing especially unexpected. Guilford County (Greensboro), despite voting 60/40-ish Democratic in most statewide races, will likely keep a 3/3 split delegation. HD59, a GOP-leaning seat in the east, is open, as Reps. Jon Hardister (R) and John Faircloth (R) are double-bunked.

Along the Virginia border (in a stretch of counties spanning from Alexander to Rockingham), there has been a fair bit of aesthetic changes, though in terms of outcome, all four seats there are Safe Republican.

The state’s largest county, Mecklenburg (Charlotte), contains 12 seats. Initially split 6/6 after 2012, by last year the Democrats had an 8/4 advantage, and this map essentially locks that in. While the partisan outcome should stay the same, most of the incumbents will have a significant amount of new precincts.

Last year, Democrats flipped HD92 with Chaz Beasley (D). Beasley’s seat, which used to follow the county’s western border, is renumbered HD88, and is a more compact seat in the blue-trending southwestern corner of the county. Similarly, Rep. Mary Belk (D) narrowly flipped HD88, in the south-central part f the county. Though the seat is renamed HD92, it’s considerably more Democratic. Her new seat drops whiter, wealthier neighborhoods like Myers Park, for more diverse precincts in the west.

Finally, just east of Charlotte, going further into the Piedmont, there are some interesting changes in Cabarrus and Rowan Counties. Reps. Larry Pittman (R) and Carl Ford (R) are double-bunked, in HD83. In the adjacent HD82, Rep. Linda Johnson (R) has her seat move west, to follow the border with Mecklenburg County. Both seats should stay GOP, though; Trump carried HD83 58/39 and HD82 by a lesser 56/41.

Overall, the playing field isn’t that much different with re-redistricting; anything from a slight Democratic gain to slight Republican gain. Democrats are currently sitting at 46 seats. Their target, to sustain Gov. Cooper’s veto’s, would be <40%, which would mean winning more than 48 seats next year.