A panel of three state judges upheld Monday the redrawn congressional map approved Nov. 14 by the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly, opening the filing period for congressional candidates. 

Liberal advocacy group National Redistricting Foundation filed a lawsuit shortly after the map cleared the legislature. The governor cannot veto a congressional redistricting map.

The ruling meant filing for the state's 13 congressional districts could begin Monday, with a noon Dec. 20 deadline. The primary is set for March 3. Filing had been postponed until after the judges ruled.

Because U.S. House representatives don’t have to live in the district they represent, they could choose to run elsewhere from where they are based now.

Political analysts have said the likely outcome of redistricting is shifting from a 10-3 Republican majority to eight solid Republican and five solid Democrat districts, with the 2nd and 6th districts flipping blue.

Before the judges' ruling was disclosed, Kathy Manning launched her campaign for the redrawn 6th District. Manning was the Democratic candidate for the 13th Congressional District in 2018, losing to Republican Rep. Ted Budd.

Manning is running in a 6th that now contains all of Winston-Salem, half of Kernersville and all of Guilford County.

“For too long, the Triad area has been underrepresented in Congress due to unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps drawn by Republican insiders,” Manning said.

“Since the announcement of new congressional maps last month, I've been humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support from the Triad community."

Winston-Salem City Councilwoman DD Adams said Monday "she has no comment at this time" on potential plans to run as a Democratic congressional candidate. She ran in the 5th District in 2018, losing to U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.

Republican Rep. Mark Walker has not said whether he plans to run in the redrawn 6th, or opt to challenge Republican incumbent in Patrick McHenry in the 10th District or  Budd in the 13th District.

McHenry said in November he would run for his ninth term in the 10th. The redrawn 10th would swap the suburban parts of Forsyth, the vast majority of Iredell and all of Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.

Budd confirmed Monday he was running for a third term in the 13th.

Walker said in a statement Monday that "while politicians in North Carolina rush to plant the flag of their own ambitions — disregarding the people they are privileged to serve and trading constituencies like baseball cards — I will continue to pray and seek clarity on God’s path forward."

"Filing will remain open until Dec. 20, and I feel no pressure to rush a decision."

Budd said that after the judges "unanimously stopped liberal Democrats’ from another Democrat gerrymander, I am filing for reelection in my hometown District 13 because Piedmont families need a reliable conservative who stands with President Trump and doesn’t cave to Washington insiders."

Walker pointed out in his statement that the redrawn congressional map "places six of the eight counties he currently represents in the 13th, as well as 53% of Walker's constituent population."

Budd spokesman Michael Luethy responded by saying "Ted’s worked hard to earn re-election, and I don’t see anyone matching Ted’s conservative credentials."

Ruling reasoning

The panel of judges encouraged legislators to redraw the congressional map to avoid delaying the congressional primaries.

The State Board of Elections said it needed a congressional redistricting map by mid-December.

“As a practical matter, in the court’s view, there is simply not sufficient time to fully evaluate the factual record necessary to decide the constitutional challenges of the congressional districts without significantly delaying the primary elections,” Judge Paul Ridgeway said Monday. “It is time for the citizens to vote.

“Although one can certainly argue that the process was flawed or that the result was far from ideal, inevitably the end result is that the grievously flawed 2016 congressional map has been replaced."

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, and sponsor of Senate version of HB1029, has said the redistricting map in HB1029 has been attacked unfairly as being too favorable to Republicans.

"The Democratic Party’s scheme to use judges to effectuate a Democratic gerrymander has failed," Hise said Monday.

"Now that a unanimous, bipartisan court has denied the plaintiffs’ last-minute challenge to the 2019 Congressional map ... we can finally put this decade of relentless litigation behind us."

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, said in a statement that “North Carolina Republicans yet again run out the clock on fair maps, denying justice to North Carolina voters and forcing our state to go another election using undemocratic district lines."

"North Carolina Democrats will not stop fighting for truly fair maps where voters — not undemocratically-elected politicians — choose their representatives.

"We look forward to sending new representatives to Congress who will better reflect our state’s values.”

Leaning Democratic?

Rural voters have made the 5th and 6th districts among the most reliable Republican seats in North Carolina over the past 35 years.

However, in the 2018 congressional races affecting Forsyth and Guilford counties, there were a combined 196,238 votes cast in those counties for Democratic candidates Adams (77,054, 5th), Ryan Watts (38,402, 6th) and Manning (80,782, 13th), and a combined 138,832 votes for Foxx (60,303), Walker (31,956), and Budd (46,573, 13th).

That reality could spur the same Democrats to run again in 2020, or could attract new candidates encouraged by the potential Democratic lean.

Angela Flynn is the only other announced 2020 Democratic candidate for the 6th; no Democratic has declared for the 5th or 10th.

Hailey Barringer, Manning's campaign manager, said Monday they expect to have at least one primary opponent.

"We expect a competitive primary, the more the merrier," Barringer said.

"She is ready to "build another grassroots campaign in the proposed 6th District. She welcomes invitations from Forsyth County groups to talk with them about issues that concern them."

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures, said the 6th could draw "a rather large field" by the Dec. 20 filing deadline.

"Whenever maps are redrawn to produce a district seen as favorable to one party, this tends to generate a lot of interest among members of that party who want to compete for the seat," Dinan said.

"The closest parallel would be the 2016 Republican primary for the 13th District after that district was redrawn in response to litigation and was generally favorable for Republican candidates."

That primary had 17 candidates in which Budd won with just 20% of the vote.

Dinan said potential congressional incumbents and candidates may be thinking as much about 2022 as 2020 given another redistricting will be required in 2021 as part of the 2020 U.S. Census. There is an expectation that North Carolina will gain a 14th congressional seat.

"Sometimes district lines change only modestly after a census," Dinan said. "Sometimes, they are dramatically reshaped, whether because of population shifts, the addition of a new district, or because of a change in which party is in control of the legislature and drawing the districts.

"Some candidates who are considering a run in 2020 will have to be aware that the districts could change significantly in 2022 and may be less favorable to them or their party at that point."

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