State legislators, looking to reverse decades of Democratic-drawn maps and give their party a chance to win multiple seats, released a map Friday that not only does just that but is also likely to be a case study for any aspiring map-drawer.
The map makes four Democratic-held seats much tougher for the incumbents to hold, and Reps. Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell, Mike McIntyre and Brad Miller are all going to have to fight for their political lives. Republicans, who currently hold just six of 13 seats in the state, will almost surely win at least a couple of these.
But the map is also so successful for several more reasons:
* Unlike an Illinois map in which Democrats controlled the process and drew most of that state’s Republicans into districts with other incumbents, North Carolina Republicans who control the entire process in the state have kept every incumbent in his or her own district. There had been talk of drawing together Kissell and McIntyre, for example, and allowing the winner to have a safer Democratic district. Instead, each man will be a top target, and Kissell in particular will be fighting from behind.
* The changes, while potentially ground-breaking for Republicans, don’t appear to be that severe to the naked eye. Most of the districts experience only a few small changes here and there, but with big practical effects.
* The real measure of a successful gerrymander is how many districts are competitive;the fewer, the better. Republicans have created a map in which 10 of 13 districts lean to their side to a significant degree, with three safe Democratic districts that Republicans will never, ever be able to win. There are essentially no bona fide swing districts and the GOP has sucked every Republican it could out of the three safe Democratic seats.
A look at the numbers shows just how successful a map this is.
A breakdown of results from the 2008 presidential race by the North Carolina Free Enterprise Fund shows that Miller’s district would move from going 40 percent for GOP nominee John McCain to a district that would have gone 56 percent for McCain. That remarkable shift comes by simply cutting off Miller’s Democratic territory in the Greensboro area.
Similarly small changes make Kissell’s district go from one that went 47 percent for McCain to on that would go 55 percent; McIntyre’s goes from 52 percent to 55 percent; and Shuler’s goes from 52 percent to 58 percent.
Shuler, who, with the possible exception of McIntyre, has been the toughest Democrat in the delegation to beat, now represents the most conservative district in the state, according to the presidential numbers.
Republicans also had to shore up their most vulnerable member, freshman Rep. Renee Ellmers, and they did it. Her district moves from going 47 percent for McCain to going 56 percent for McCain.
All five of those districts were held by Democrats just six months ago; under the new map, Democrats would have a hard time winning any of them over the next decade.
In order to increase the GOP performance in those districts, Republicans had to dilute their own party numbers elsewhere.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R) took one for the team, taking on much of liberal Asheville from Shuler. So while Shuler’s district moved six points towards Republicans, McHenry’s moved six points towards Democrats.
GOP Reps. Howard Coble and Walter Jones both saw their districts move from safe Republican to lean Republican, though both are still safe. The state’s last Republican, Charlotte-area Rep. Sue Myrick (R), sees her district stay about the same.
Republicans also took every last Republican they could out of the state’s three safe Democratic districts, making it so McCain wouldn’t have taken even a third of the vote in districts held by Reps. G.K. Butterfield, Mel Watt and David Price. Those three are in exceptionally Democratic districts now.
The end result is remarkable: 10 districts would have gone between 55 percent and 58 percent for McCain, while the other three would all have gone less than 32 percent for McCain.
Republicans have been waiting for a while to see what would come out of North Carolina, as it’s the one state where they really had an opportunity to win multiple seats in the line-drawing process.
Of course, those four Democratic incumbents have proven tough to beat before, and by trying to take them all out rather than focusing on two or three of them, Republicans are reducing their chances in each district slightly.
But all four now represent significantly more conservative districts, and 2012 will be a test on a whole new scale for each of them.