(WGHP) — The next big election cycle now is officially underway, and likely you already have been deluged by discussions about who will control Congress and the Senate for the final two years of Joe Biden’s presidency. If not, pay attention: 2022 is an important year across North Carolina and the nation.
That political advertising focusing on candidates and issues that already has begun to air is just a whiff of what will inundate your TV, radio, social media, email and snail-mail boxes to focus on this candidate or that issue. And you wouldn’t be alone if your primal instinct was to just shove all of that immediately into your trash bins.
But don’t do that. There is too much at stake, and we want to help you cancel a lot of that cacophony, to guide you through the process with timely information almost daily for the next 370 days – until Nov. 8, 2022, when the General Election will conclude.
To get this off on the right foot, here are 10 key points you should know as of today. These will mark the course for your decisions:
1. We have a full ballot in North Carolina
We will elect a U.S. senator to replace retiring Richard Burr (more on that below), representatives of the 14 seats we now are allotted in the House of Representatives (ditto), senators and representatives for both houses in Raleigh (ditto ditto), state and local courts and any ballot measures that might emerge (Here’s a full list if you really must read it today).
2. Census data brings new districts, added seat
The delayed 2020 census remains a key factor in all of this, right down to the ballots you fill out (and maybe even when). North Carolina’s population growth merited a 14th seat in Congress, which, given the state’s generally “purple” status on the political spectrum, ostensibly could be a key to controlling power in D.C. (the Democrats currently have narrow margins, you know). Delayed data also moved Greensboro to postpone its City Council elections until spring because five census-determined districts had to be updated.
3. Districts determine candidates
The first step, of course, is to have candidates. And although there are some who have announced and/or filed, including some numerous generally expected incumbents, we must understand district lines before we know candidates. Candidates have a formal window for filing between Dec. 6 and Dec. 17, and sometimes who decides to run for what is mandated by residence.
In North Carolina, the General Assembly remains responsible for determining district lines, and those processes are controlled by the Republican majorities in both houses. Development of various maps and hearings have been underway in Raleigh. The House and the Senate create separate maps to review, and each has passed its map for both Congress and then their own houses. They could be approved and become law as soon as Thursday.
4. Whatever the lines, they may not be firm
But don’t expect that Senate map – or any other new district lines – necessarily to be firm in time for the March 8 primary schedule. One lawsuit has been filed – by the NAACP – before the Senate even voted on Monday, and public comment about them has been strongly against the way they dilute cities.
Remember, the courts stepped in to affect timetables and districts in 2016, 2018 and 2020 because judges found the GOP’s work in 2010 violated some civil rights. (Remember when Greensboro was part of a “spaghetti district” that basically ran along I-85 and included some of Charlotte? Greensboro native Alma Adams’ district? That was abolished by the courts.)
Don’t be surprised if there are fast and furious arguments and protests that could upset timetables and require do-overs.
5. Greensboro, Winston-Salem are in flux
One of the key outcomes of the court-ordered redraws for Congress for the 2020 election was seen in Guilford and Forsyth counties, the most populated areas in the Piedmont Triad.
Guilford County went from being split into two districts, both controlled by Republicans because the Democratic power of Greensboro was diluted by rural Republicans from surrounding counties, into a unified district for all of Guilford County and the area around Winston-Salem. As a result, incumbent Republican Mark Walker decided not to seek re-election in the 6th District (which Democrat Kathy Manning now represents), and 13th District Rep. Ted Budd no longer represents most of those counties (although he does represent the southern slice of Forsyth where he lives).
The map passed by the Senate would split Guilford County three ways: into the 7th District, which stretches all the way to Wake County; the 10th, which reaches to the Mecklenburg County line; and the 11th, which includes Rockingham County and then the western stretch of mountain counties (including Stokes, Surry, Alleghany, Ashe and a small sliver of Watauga and beyond).
Forsyth County would remain pretty much intact in the 12th District but combined with a far-flung strip of counties west and southwest as far as Lincoln County.
6. This is the key argument about congressional maps
Critics suggest that these maps are drawn to dilute the strength of Democratic voting power. But experts who reviewed the maps based on 2016 and 2020 election data said they likely create eight safe Republican seats, three safe Democratic seats and three competitive seats. That means the GOP’s control could range from 11-3 to 8-6, based on how Democrats perform in elections.
Gerrymandering is legal, but the courts have suggested that the process sometimes disenfranchises some voters, which is what led to new maps for 2020. These maps also split Mecklenburg and Wake counties, which also are Democratic strongholds, and reinforce the argument that they are drawn to provide more opportunities for Republican control even though the majority of registered voters are not Republicans and statewide races can go either way. Members of the GOP say it certainly worked that way when Democrats had the drawing pen. Because of all this flux, exactly who is running where is not yet known, although numerous candidates have been announced.
Budd’s name isn’t on the list for his 13th District (or the new 12th District), but six Republicans and one Democrat are listed. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) already has filed in the 5th District, but districts now suggest that she lives in the 14th (only a small southern corner of Watauga County would be in the 11th).
7. Around the state
State legislative maps also are being redrawn, and arguments about those – while less vocal than those about congressional maps – are about some of the same issues.
The map passed by the Senate would change the structure of districts serving Guilford County, basically splitting into separate districts for the cities of Greensboro and High Point and attaching most of the rest of the county with Rockingham County. Currently, voters in the county have four senators with two districts attached to Randolph and Alamance counties.
Forsyth also would be divided pretty much by city and county.
8. And then that U.S. Senate race
One of the most-watched races in the country will be the chase for Burr’s replacement. Burr is from Forsyth County, and the GOP slate will have a distinct Triad flavor. Budd and Walker, a resident of Guilford County, along with former Gov. Pat McCrory, a native of Guilford County, are the key figures in a primary that also will include Brunswick County Commissioner Marty Cooke.
Democrats so far will choose from among former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, former state Sen. Erica Smith, Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton and virologist Richard Watkins. Gov. Roy Cooper has said he would remain in office rather than run.
Libertarian Shannon Bray is on the ballot.
9. The Trump factor
One key element in every race will be former President Donald Trump. He already has weighed in on several candidates around the nation. And after his daughter-in-law Lara Trump and his former chief of staff Mark Meadows decided not to run for North Carolina’s Senate seat, he threw his support behind Budd (maybe you’ve seen the TV ads that have been appearing for months). Budd was one of the House members who supported Trump’s unfounded claims about a fraudulent election and voted to decertify on Jan. 6. It is expected that Trump also may choose to back some of the Congressional candidates that support his claims.
10. Here are some of the key dates
- Candidates must file between Dec. 6 and Dec. 17.
- Primary Election Day is March 8 (with early voting starting Feb. 17).
- There could be runoff elections in April or May, but results in March would determine if they would be necessary.
- Voter registration deadline for that primary is Feb. 11 and for the general election is Oct. 14.