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NC congressional map that helps GOP gets Senate panel's OK

North Carolina Republicans on Monday advanced a proposed congressional district map for the next decade that if enacted would likely make it easier for the GOP to increase the number of candidates from the state heading to Capitol Hill.

A Senate committee voted along party lines for a redistricting plan that reflects population gains counted during the 2020 census that yielded an additional seat for North Carolina, its 14th overall.

The Senate’s congressional plan will be debated by the full chamber on Tuesday. It would put Republicans in a strong position to win 10 of the 14 seats beginning with the 2022 elections, according to Senate Democrats and map analysis such as the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Any congressional map would have to receive both state House and Senate approval.

GOP leaders hope to give final approval to congressional and General Assembly lines by the end of the week. A House committee was slated Monday to take up a state House map that likely would help Republicans retain their majority in that chamber. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto power doesn't extend to redistricting maps.

Although senators prohibited themselves from formally using partisan data like voter registration or past election results to create a new map, Democrats argued that it’s obvious the congressional boundaries were drawn with partisan advantage in mind. North Carolina is one of a handful of states where Republican seat gains could help the party retake the U.S. House majority in 2022.

Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican and congressional map co-author, told reporters that he hadn’t looked at partisan data to evaluate political outcomes. He said the map met other criteria well by minimizing the number of counties overall that are divided between districts and the number of municipalities that are split.

It’s “been a tremendous feat that we’ve been able to accomplish,” Hise said. “And I think it best meets the criteria of anything submitted or considered by the committee.”

Out of the state's current 13 seats, Republicans now hold eight — two fewer compared to after the 2018 elections, after which state judges declared the U.S. House map lines were likely excessively partisan and unconstitutional. They were redrawn, leading to election wins by Democrats Kathy Manning and Deborah Ross.

Should the map get General Assembly approval, Manning's return to Congress would appear difficult. Her current district contains all of Guilford County. Senate Republicans instead want to divide Guilford into three districts, all of which would likely favor a Republican candidate. Although members of Congress only have to live in the state they want to represent, Manning's residence is drawn into the same northwestern district with veteran GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx of Watauga County.

Democrats cited splitting Guilford, Wake and Mecklenburg counties into three districts each as a way to dilute political power of metro Democrats by putting them in districts with conservative voters. They said the state's congressional delegation should reflect the closely divided nature of statewide elections.

“It’s not coincident that it’s only in the urban areas that you subject these counties to that kind of treatment,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County told Republican colleagues. “This kind of radical extreme effort simply takes (Democrats) out of the process."

The committee's Republican majority rejected a competing map by Democratic Sen. Ben Clark of Hoke County that would have generated more politically competitive districts — likely giving Democrats the chance to win seven seats. The plan also would have kept Guilford County in one district and limited Wake and Mecklenburg to two districts.

One GOP senator said he'd think people living in the urban counties would be pleased to have potentially three members of Congress to represent them, no matter their party affiliation. “That’s a lot more horsepower to advocate for things,” said Sen. Jim Perry of Lenoir County.

The Senate congressional plan also would have Democratic Rep. Alma Adams and Republican Rep. Dan Bishop living in the same Democratic-leaning district in Charlotte. Bishop could run in an adjoining GOP-leaning district where no incumbent currently lives. The maps also would create open seats in a district covering a part of Charlotte and points west, another in five counties south of Raleigh and a third in part of Guilford and points south.

Litigation is looming on whatever GOP districts are ultimately approved. The state NAACP, Common Cause and several voters already have gone to court. They sued last Friday, asking a judge to block legislative districts from being drawn without first examining racial data to ensure districts comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

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