Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal. The author of this post is David Larson.
Much of the media's attention in North Carolina's 2022 U.S. congressional races has been on the open U.S. Senate seat and the N.C.-13 race, both of which appear to be tossups. But the N.C.-1 race in the state's rural northeast, between Republican Sandy Smith and Democrat state Sen. Don Davis, could also come down to the wire if Republicans have the "red-wave"
election they are hoping for.
According to multiple analysts - including the Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections - the race is a "lean Democrat," meaning it is competitive but favors the Democrat. If Republican turnout is heavy, this advantage may disappear.
Daily Kos, a left-wing news site, analyzed the voting patterns by precinct for the 2020 elections and found that 53% voted for President Joe Biden and 46% for former President Donald Trump in what is now N.C.-1. The 2020 district favored Biden 54% to 45%, so the redrawn district is slightly more competitive. Turnout in off-year elections often favors Republicans, and midterms tend to favor the party that doesn't inhabit the White House. These factors, combined with the rightward shift in this rural area of the state over time, may also shrink the Democrat advantage.
In terms of financial strength, the Republican Smith has raised and spent a lot more money through official campaign channels than Davis. Through the second quarter, Davis, considered a moderate or even conservative Democrat during his time in the state Senate, had raised a little over $910,000; while Smith raised $1.418 million. Smith has also outspent Davis, with $1.395 million in expenditures to Davis' $710,000.
This leaves Smith with $44,000 left in cash-on-hand and Davis with $209,000. But these numbers are likely to change dramatically once the third-quarter reports are revealed on Oct. 15.
That's just the money the campaigns are spending themselves, though. Independent expenditure groups like political action committees have been spending heavily in the race - and almost entirely for the Democrat Davis. As of Oct. 5, there was $1.797 million spent in favor of Davis by IE groups but less than $17,000 in favor of Smith.
The lack of PAC money in favor of Smith's candidacy may go back to the Republican establishment favoring her primary opponent, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson. In the close and brutal race, Roberson and other mainstream Republicans tried to use Smith's alleged checkered financial past and accusations of domestic abuse from her daughter and two ex-husbands to show she wouldn't be a good fit for the office. This tactic did not ultimately work for Roberson, but Democrats have used the same information to attack Smith as well.
Smith ran as the "America First"
or MAGA candidate, but she was unable to get Trump's official endorsement during the primary. Now with Trump endorsing her at a September Wilmington rally, campaign donations and PAC spending from the MAGA wing of the party may start to flow to her defense in the final weeks.
If predictions are accurate and Smith loses narrowly, the balance of the N.C. delegation would come down to N.C.-13. A win by Republican Bo Hines there would give Republicans an 8-6 advantage, but a win for Democrat state Sen. Wiley Nickel would create an evenly split 7-7 delegation.
Before redistricting, Republicans held an 8-5 advantage in the N.C. congressional delegation. But after the 2020 census reapportionment assigned the state a 14th seat, there was a drawn-out fight over how the new map would be drawn.
The Republican General Assembly drew a map that would keep the advantage in their favor, arguing that because their voters are more spread out across the state compared with the urban-centered Democrats, a 7-7 map would be highly unlikely without intentionally drawing districts to favor Democrats.
But the Democrat-majority state Supreme Court's novel reading of the N.C. Constitution determined that in a state that is often near 50-50 in state-wide elections, fairness would dictate a rough parity in districts for each party. The courts ordered "special masters"
to draw new districts to be used in the 2022 elections.