Politics & Government

A new election forecast shows just how long the odds are for many NC candidates

November’s general election will determine which party controls the U.S. House, and both sides are gearing up for a blitz of television ads, campaign events, sign printing and speech-making over the next 80 or so days.

However, a new forecast model by election prognosticator Nate Silver on his FiveThirtyEight website shows that most of North Carolina’s congressional incumbents have very little to worry about, with six incumbents having a 99 percent chance of winning.

In eight of the state’s 13 congressional districts, the challenger — be they Republican or Democrat — has less than 10 percent chance of winning, according to the model. Two more challengers have less than a 15 percent chance of winning a seat in Congress.

“The vast majority of congressional races in this country and especially in North Carolina, there’s not a lot of action,” said Chris Cooper, the head of the political science and public affairs department at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

“It all starts with gerrymandering,” said David B. McLennan, a professor of political science at Raleigh’s Meredith College. “And the power of incumbency is always very powerful.”

Twelve of North Carolina’s incumbents will be on the ballot in November. The one exception is Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger, who lost his bid for the GOP nomination to Mark Harris. Harris faces Democrat Dan McCready in November in the 9th District, which stretches from the Charlotte suburbs to Fayetteville along the state’s southern border.

McCready has a 50.3 percent chance of winning the district, while Harris has a 49.6 percent change, according to Silver. The model does not predict vote percentages, but rather odds of winning.

“That’s as competitive a race as there is in the county,” Cooper said.

It is the only seat projected to flip parties, according to the forecast. The model is based on polls and “fundamental factors,” including incumbency, past voting history, fundraising and the generic ballot polls, according to Silver.

Buoyed by an unpopular Republican president, a Democratic edge in enthusiasm and historical midterm trends favoring the party out of power, Democrats are excited about their chances of taking control of the House in November.

Silver gives the party a 74.6 percent chance of winning the House. Democrats need to win a net of 23 seats to take control of the House.

Republicans hold 10 of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats.

Democrats G.K. Butterfield (1st Congressional District), David Price (4th) and Alma Adams (12th) have a greater than 99 percent chance of winning re-election, according to Silver. Republicans Walter Jones, who has no Democratic opponent in the 3rd district, Patrick McHenry (10th) and Mark Meadows (11th) are also above 99 percent.

Republican incumbents Virginia Foxx (5th) and David Rouzer (7th) are at 94 and 92 percent, respectively, and three-term Rep. George Holding (2nd) isn’t far behind at 89 percent in his race against Linda Coleman.

Richard Hudson (8th) has an 85.8 percent chance of winning another term against Democrat Frank McNeill, according to Silver’s model. Republican Rep. Mark Walker (6th) of Greensboro is at 78 percent.

First-term Rep. Ted Budd, a Republican, has a 62 percent chance of winning another term in North Carolina’s 13th District. Democratic nominee Kathy Manning has outraised Budd, and is considered by most pundits the Democrats’ second-best chance for a pick-up after the 9th district.

“It feels like a closer race. Budd is in his first term. Manning has got some strong fundraising abilities. But then you look at the district. It was drawn as a pretty strong Republican district,” McLennan said.

North Carolina redrew its congressional districts in 2016 after the previous districts were declared unconstitutional by a federal court due to racial gerrymandering. Judges also declared the 2016 districts unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering. But the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court in June, leaving the districts in place for November’s elections.

Republicans announced at the time the districts were drawn that they were aiming for maximum influence.

“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats,” state Rep. David Lewis, of Harnett County, said at the time.

Other outlets that do ratings have similar results.

Both the Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato rate the 9th District as “a toss-up” and the 13th District as “lean Republican.” Both consider the 2nd and 8th districts as “likely Republican.” All of North Carolina’s other districts are safe Republican or safe Democrat.

It means a lot of TV ads, yard signs and bumper stickers might not change a whole lot.

“Cities are becoming more Democratic over time. Rural areas are becoming more Republican. It’s difficult to draw a lot of competitive districts and gerrymandering in North Carolina exacerbates the problem that would have already existed,” Cooper said.

In 2016, 97 percent of incumbents running for re-election won their races in the House, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

However, seismic changes in mid-terms have occurred. In 2010 — like 2018, the first midterm election after a new president was inaugurated — incumbents won 85 percent of their races when Republicans won a net of 63 seats to take control of the House.

“If Holding and Budd end up in trouble, we’re talking about a 65-seat swing nationally,” McLennan said.

Silver gained national attention in 2008 when he correctly forecast 49 of 50 state results in President Barack Obama’s victory. In 2012, Silver and his site FiveThirtyEight — named for the total number of electoral votes at stake in each presidential election — correctly forecast the results in all 50 states in Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney. In 2016, Silver pegged President Donald Trump’s chances at 29 percent of winning the election, far greater than other forecasting sites who had Hillary Clinton as a much bigger favorite.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC