In what one analyst called a "bonanza" for Republicans nationally, North Carolina's GOP lawmakers Friday proposed new voting districts that would make it significantly harder for four Democratic congressmen to keep their seats.
The proposed map would threaten Democratic Reps. Brad Miller in the 13th District, Larry Kissell in the 8th and Heath Shuler in the 11th. Democrat Mike McIntyre's 7th District also would grow more Republican.
"In the national context, Republicans don't have any more North Carolinas," said David Wasserman, an analyst with the Washington-based Cook Political Report. "This is their gem, their ace ... This is Republican redistricting bonanza."
Republicans downplayed any partisan advantage.
"Here you have fair and legal districts that are competitive," said GOP Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee.
Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the plan - along with still-unreleased legislative districts - in a special session that starts July 25. Any plan would have to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court.
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, who already has vetoed 15 bills passed by the GOP-led General Assembly, cannot veto redistricting bills.
4 Wake districts
The congressional plan splits Wake County into four districts. It also puts more Democratic voters into three districts with Democratic incumbents but takes away many Democrats from three others. Among the changes:
It takes about 37,000 African Americans from Kissell's 8th District, in part by moving many Mecklenburg County precincts to Mel Watt's 12th District. It adds part of Democratic-leaning Robeson County but also Republican-leaning portions of Rowan, Davidson and Randolph counties.
"It is unfortunate that the legislature has gerrymandered the Congressional maps," Kissell said in a statement. "But ... I plan to seek re-election, return to Congress and continue the fight."
The 1st District, represented by Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, would dip into Raleigh for the first time. It also would get more African American voters. So would the state's other majority-minority district, the 12th.
Republican Patrick McHenry would pick up the city of Asheville, siphoning Democratic voters from Shuler in the 11th District. Shuler's 11th District would pick up Republican-leaning voters in Burke, Avery, Mitchell and Caldwell counties.
"The way [districts] were drawn in 2000 seemed awfully gerrymandered," said state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes. "So if they went from gerry-mandered to fair and legal there would be a potential for a pickup of Republican seats."
State Democratic Chairman David Parker had a different view.
"Any fifth-grader can see that this map is nothing more than a Republican attempt to re-segregate the South," he said in a statement. "Republicans have clearly packed African Americans in the 1st and 12th districts... These maps are simply ridiculous."
The most vulnerable Democrat would be Miller.
Democratic registration in the 13th District would drop from 51 percent to 41 percent, while Republican registration would increase from 26 percent to 37 percent. The district would lose 130,000 African American voters.
"Turnabout is fair play," said analyst John Davis of Raleigh. "When he chaired the N.C. Senate reapportionment committee 10 years ago, he drew himself a congressional district he could not lose. Now he's in a district he cannot win."
While Watt and Butterfield would get more Democratic voters, so would Democratic Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill. But his new 4th District, now centered in the Triangle, would snake through Lee, Harnett and Cumberland counties. Along the way, it would pick up Democratic voters from Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers.
"While I am sad to see different areas lost ... (in) the new map, I am also excited to bring my service and dedication to the new constituents that may be added," Ellmers said in a statement.
Ellmers was the only GOP pickup in North Carolina last year, even as Republicans were winning enough seats across the country to take back the U.S. House. That's one reason there could be so many vulnerable Democrats in 2012.
"So many Democrats survived 2010 in North Carolina that there were a lot of targets," said Wasserman of the Cook Report. "(Republicans) can't be nearly as aggressive in other states."
Ilario Pantano, a Republican who challenged McIntyre in 2010 and plans to run again, said he was prepared to run under any configuration of the 7th District.
"At the end of the day, the shape of a district is a lot of political inside baseball," he said.
N&O staff members Lynn Bonner and Michael Biesecker contributed.