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Race Ratings: GOP Looks for Major Gains in North Carolina

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Rep. Brad Miller is one of four very vulnerable Democrats under North Carolina’s new Congressional map.

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McHenry definitely took one for the GOP team in the redistricting process, with the 10th district losing a number of strongly Republican counties and gaining a chunk of liberal Buncombe County, including most of the city of Asheville. Despite the changes to the district, it is still pretty solidly red territory. While there might be some fireworks at events in Asheville with his new very liberal constituents, McHenry is just about a lock to win again.

11th district
Incumbent: Heath Shuler (D)
3rd term (54 percent)
Rating: Tossup

Shuler, a standout college quarterback, will have to throw a flawless game during the next 15 months to keep his seat in Congress. More than 58 percent of voters would have cast their ballot for McCain in the 2008 presidential election in the redrawn 11th district.

Shuler lost a big chunk of heavily Democratic Buncombe County under the new map, including more than three-quarters of voters in the city of Asheville. The 11th picked up the very Republican counties of Mitchell, Avery, Caldwell and Burke. That means there are a lot of new voters Shuler will have to introduce himself to  and convince that the “D” at the end of his name on the ballot doesn’t mean he’s not one of them. That’s going to be an uphill battle against his most visible opponent and early frontrunner in the GOP primary, District Attorney Jeff Hunt.

Hunt could be a formidable opponent to Shuler. “This guy is like Gregory Peck. He looks and sounds the part,” said a Republican with a deep knowledge of North Carolina politics.

In an interview with Roll Call, Hunt emphasized that he is a “consistent, reliable conservative,” and he hopes to create a contrast with Shuler.

Hunt, 61, is the district attorney for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties and appears to have the backing of the GOP establishment.

He said he would need to raise about $1.5 million for the whole election. Other declared candidates include tea-party-affiliated ophthalmologist Dan Eichenbaum and retired Army officer Spence Campbell. Another potential entrant in the race is real estate investor Mark Meadows, who could be a partial self-funder.

Whoever his opponent is, Shuler remains a very savvy politician who, despite the 11th district’s strong Republican edge, might yet be able to throw a Hail Mary for a surprising win.

12th district
Incumbent: Mel Watt (D)
10th term (64 percent)
Rating: Safe Democrat

The state Legislature tweaked Watt’s serpentine-shaped 12th district to make it more strongly Democratic and 51 percent African-American. He should have no trouble winning re-election.

13th district
Incumbent: Brad Miller (D)
5th term (56 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

There are very few scenarios where a Democrat could win in the reconfigured 13th district. State and national Democrats admit that it’s a lost cause, and even Miller said it would be a heavy lift.

“Certainly, the 13th was designed by the Legislature to be very inhospitable to me and very inhospitable, really, to any Democrat,” he told Roll Call recently.

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