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North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps

North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps

The North Carolina state Senate is poised to create a new congressional district map that puts two Republican incumbents in jeopardy of losing their seats in next year’s elections after a federal court ruled the latest version of those district lines violate voter rights.

But the seemingly endless fight over redistricting is likely headed back to the courts as Democrats plan to ask judges to draw new lines, confident they can pick up at least one, and potentially two more seats, on top of what Republicans have proposed.

The latest round of fighting kicked off last month, when a state court ordered the legislature to redraw congressional district lines in use since 2016. The three-judge panel said the current maps represented an “extreme partisan gerrymander,” one that handed Republicans 10 of North Carolina’s 13 seats in Congress.

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Rather than take the case to the state Supreme Court, a fight they believed they would lose, legislative Republicans decided to draw new maps.

After a few weeks of debate and line-drawing, the new maps that passed the state House on a party-line vote on Thursday would create eight districts that favored President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE in 2016, and five that favored Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Ballot initiatives in Colorado, Louisiana could restrict abortion access Trump mocks Joe Biden's drive-in rallies at North Carolina event MORE

The new maps are troubling news for Reps. George HoldingGeorge Edward Bell HoldingGOP lawmaker says US-UK negotiators working 'fast and furious' on trade deal Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire MORE (R) and Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerWant to prevent Democrat destruction? Save our Senate Joe Biden has long forgotten North Carolina: Today's visit is too late Mike Johnson to run for vice chairman of House GOP conference MORE (R). Holding’s Raleigh-based district gave Clinton 60 percent of the vote in 2016, according to calculations by Stephen Wolf, a redistricting expert at the liberal Daily Kos Elections blog. Walker’s Greensboro-based district would have given Clinton 59 percent of the vote in 2016.

Holding, serving his fourth term, has indicated he may retire rather than run in a heavily Democratic district or move to challenge a fellow Republican.

Walker, serving his third term, said on Twitter late Thursday he would “keep fighting” for North Carolinians “no matter what liberal attorneys, judicial activists and politicians in Raleigh do in self-interest.”

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Some North Carolina political observers interpreted that tweet as a sign Walker would run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022, when Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs MORE (R) has said he will retire.

None of the 11 other districts would be particularly competitive: Clinton carried three of those seats by margins larger than 10 percentage points, and Trump carried the remaining eight by similarly wide margins.

The state Senate plans to vote on the House-passed maps Friday. Sources in North Carolina said that vote, too, would be along party lines as Democrats set up their legal challenge.

“Based on the various state representatives’ comments right before the final vote in the [North Carolina] House, I’d say both sides were formalizing their thoughts for the court to review,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. 

Democrats complained in particular about the way Republicans drew district lines in Cumberland County, home of Fayetteville. The county is divided between districts held by Reps. David RouzerDavid Cheston RouzerTrump visits swing-state North Carolina on 75th anniversary of WWII's end House Republican introduces bill to hold up members' pay if they vote by proxy North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps MORE (R) and Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats MORE (R), and some Democrats believe the three-judge panel will find fault with the new lines.

“To have a fair map we need a 6-7 map or a 7-6 map or a 6-6-1 map. Those would be fair maps,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldCongress must protect kidney disease patients during the COVID-19 pandemic The time for HELP is now: Senate should pass bill to expedite recovery following natural disasters Rep. Clyburn on Confederate statues: Mob action is no answer MORE (D) told the Raleigh News & Observer. “This appears on the face of it to be a 5-8 map, which doesn’t quite get us where we need to go.”

Republicans objected to what they called Democratic hypocrisy in demanding maps that come with any predetermined outcome. Several Republicans expressed frustration that Democrats were already lining up their legal challenge.

“The Democrats who sued to prohibit partisan redistricting have demanded their preferred partisan outcomes in exchange for voting to support new congressional maps. Such brazen hypocrisy is astounding,” said state Sen. Ralph Hise (R), who co-chairs the Senate redistricting panel.

If the three-judge panel agrees with Democrats that the newly proposed maps still do not meet the court order, they could turn to a special master to redraw the district lines once again.

But that special master would have to make haste: The filing deadline for congressional races is Dec. 2, just over two weeks away.

After a decade of legal battles over district lines, the fight is not over. Candidates who win election next year will begin another round, this one over regularly scheduled redistricting that follows the 2020 census.