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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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North Carolina’s new House map, passed into law two weeks ago, seeks to unravel several decades of Democratic-led gerrymandering. Even Democrats privately admit the state GOP appears to have done a masterful job.

Four Democrats — Reps. Mike McIntyre, Larry Kissell, Heath Shuler and Brad Miller — are exceedingly vulnerable under the new map, mandated by the decennial redistricting process.

Worse for Democrats, McIntyre was drawn into Kissell’s district and Miller was drawn into Rep. David Price’s (D) district.

Even with President Barack Obama holding the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and even if, 15 months from now, he rides to a comfortable re-election victory, it’s unclear that his coattails can buoy the four Blue Dog Democrats whose districts are now in substantially Republican turf.

That said, the new map is likely to face court challenges and, under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, must be approved by either the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or the Department of Justice before it can be enforced.

1st district
Incumbent: G.K. Butterfield (D)
4th term (59 percent)
Rating: Safe Democrat

Early draft redistricting maps moved some minority-heavy counties, protected under the Voting Rights Act, out of the 1st district. Butterfield protested, and they were restored to his district. He’ll likely win re-election without any trouble.

2nd district
Incumbent: Renee Ellmers (R)
1st term (49 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican     

Democrats in the state tell Roll Call that former Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) is considering a rematch with Ellmers, who unseated him in 2010. But the new district is substantially more Republican than it was when Etheridge lost, and Ellmers should be able to relatively easily dispatch her former opponent or any Democrat that comes her way.

3rd district
Incumbent: Walter Jones Jr. (R)
9th term (72 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

Jones’ coastal district stretches from the Virginia border all the way down into a bit of New Hanover County in the southern part of the state. The 3rd district is slightly less Republican than it was previously but remains safe GOP territory.

4th district
Incumbent: David Price (D)
8th term (57 percent)
Rating: Safe Democrat

A Democrat will almost certainly win this incredibly partisan district that snakes from south to north across seven counties in the center of the state. But who? Rep. Brad Miller (D) indicated to Roll Call that he might run here.

With Price insisting he’ll run again, there is the potential of a Member-vs.-Member primary. Both Price and Miller represent portions of the new 4th district in their current districts, but in a showdown, Price would appear to have the early edge with the advantage of his seniority.

5th District
Incumbent: Virginia Foxx (R)
4th term (66 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

While Foxx’s northwestern 5th district grows a bit less Republican under the new lines, the Congresswoman should have no trouble cruising to a fifth term.

6th district
Incumbent: Howard Coble (R)
14th term (75 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

The question isn’t whether a Democrat will win this district — one won’t. It’s whether Coble, 80, will retire. His spokesman said Coble would “wait to the end of the year to decide” if he’s going to run again. Potential GOP candidates for the seat, should it open, include Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. and Guilford County GOP Chairman Bill Wright.

7th district
Incumbent: Mike McIntyre (D)
8th term (54 percent)
Rating: Leans Republican

McIntyre got drawn out of this district and into the 8th district, currently represented by Kissell. But the Congressman’s campaign has said he still plans to run for re-election in the 7th.

It will be the toughest political battle of his life. He’s lost a good chunk of his political base under the new lines, and it’s a district that would have gone 58 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McIntyre is known as a hard campaigner, has the advantages of incumbency and ended June with a comfortable $377,000 on hand. Democrats caution not to rule him out.

Right now, the GOP primary is limited to state Sen. David Rouzer (R) and retired Marine Ilario Pantano, who lost to McIntyre by more than 7 points in 2010. Rouzer is favored to get the nomination because Pantano has struggled with fundraising and only had $20,000 in cash on hand at the end of June.

8th district
Incumbent: Larry Kissell (D)
2nd term (53 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

The mountain is steep — very, very, very steep — for Kissell to climb his way to a third term. The numbers tell part of the tale: The current 8th district swung 52 percent for Obama in 2008. The new 8th district would have voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), with only 42 percent of voters casting their ballot for Obama.

Kissell had $122,000 in cash on hand at the end of June. He’ll need a lot more money if he’s going to have the war chest necessary to fight to victory. Potential GOP contenders include: state Reps. Justin Burr (no relation to the state’s senior Senator) and Jerry Dockham, businessman Pat Molamphy and financial professional Daniel Barry. Former Iredell County Commissioner Scott Keadle has already announced his intention for the seat.

9th district
Incumbent: Sue Myrick (R)
9th term (69 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

The reconfigured 9th district has the lowest McCain percentage for any GOP incumbent: He would have taken just 54 percent  of the vote there in 2008. Still, the former Charlotte mayor and third female Member from the Tar Heel State should have no trouble winning her 10th term in the district that includes portions of Iredell, Mecklenburg and Union counties.

10th district
Incumbent: Patrick McHenry (R)
4th term (71 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

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.

It seems likely that any Democrat who runs in the 13th, whether it’s Miller or someone else, will be engaging in a losing battle. Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble, who previously served as mayor of Raleigh, has announced his run for seat. He told reporters he would need to raise about $1.5 million to be competitive in the  GOP primary.

His likely primary opponent would be former U.S. attorney George Holding, who investigated ex-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Bill Randall, who lost to Miller in 2010 and who told Roll Call he “subscribes to the principles of the tea party,” has already declared he’s running again.

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