North Carolina’s 5 open congressional seats drawing candidates in droves

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — With five members of North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation declining to run this year, next week’s primaries have attracted dozens of Republican candidates seeking what could become extended time on Capitol Hill.

Some of the turnover can be attributed to redistricting — the Republican-controlled General Assembly last fall approved districts skewing rightward, prompting Democratic Reps. Jeff Jackson, Kathy Manning and Wiley Nickel to forgo reelection bids.

Compared to a map drawn by state judges for 2022 elections that resulted in Democrats and Republicans winning seven congressional seats each, the latest map makes it likely the GOP will win at least 10 of the 14 seats, according to election data. These seat flips could benefit national Republicans trying to retain what is now a fragile House majority in 2025.

Republican Reps. Patrick McHenry and Dan Bishop also declined to seek reelection, opening up vacancies in heavily GOP areas.

With courts rejecting legal arguments that redistricting maps can be struck down for favoring a party’s candidates disproportionately, chances are improved that North Carolina’s current congressional lines will stay in place through the 2030 elections, one redistricting expert says.

Given voting behavior and the shape of the districts, whoever wins can conceivably hold a seat “as long as they want,” said Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science professor. “This could be a very long career for whoever gets elected in this primary.”

Four of the Republican primaries for seats where no incumbent is running have at least five candidates. That raises the possibility of May 14 runoffs between a race’s two top vote-getters should a leading candidate fail to receive more than 30% of the vote.

The open seats have attracted candidates including current North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and the Rev. Mark Harris. Harris appeared to receive the most votes for a 2018 congressional election but never took office as a new election was ordered over an absentee ballot fraud probe.

Fourteen Republicans are competing for Nickel’s seat in the 13th District, now shaped like a horseshoe arcing around most of Raleigh and stretching from Lee County — then east and north — to the Virginia border.

Candidates include Kelly Daughtry, a Smithfield attorney, and Johnston County businessman DeVan Barbour, both of whom ran in the 2022 primary. Television ads have helped raise the profiles of Wake Forest businessman Fred Von Canon and former federal prosecutor Brad Knott of Raleigh. And Dr. Josh McConkey of Apex gained attention after winning a state lottery jackpot. The nominee will take on Democrat Frank Pierce in November.

Republican former President Donald Trump so far has endorsed candidates for two of the five open seats, including Addison McDowell in the 6th District and Moore in the 14th District.

McDowell, most recently a lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, received Trump’s backing and those of legislative leaders in his first bid for public office. The reconfigured 6th District, whose seat is currently held by Manning, stretches from Greensboro and Winston-Salem south and west to Concord.

McDowell’s rivals include Bo Hines, who received Trump’s endorsement when he won the 13th District GOP nomination in 2022, and Walker, who served in Congress in the Greensboro area for six years through 2020. Hines, who narrowly lost to Nickel in the 2022 general election, this time around again received the endorsement of the Club for Growth PAC. Christian Castelli is a retired Army officer and Green Beret who lost to Manning in the 2022 general election. He is also in the six-person field to become the GOP 6th District nominee, who will face no Democratic opposition in the fall.

Moore is seeking the nomination for the 14th District, which includes portions of Charlotte and points west to the foothills. The Kings Mountain lawyer has served in the General Assembly since 2003 and was first elected speaker in 2015. With Jackson deciding against reelection and running for attorney general instead, Pam Genant and Brendan Maginnis are running for the Democratic nomination.

In the south-central 8th District, with Bishop also deciding instead to run for attorney general, the six-candidate GOP field includes Harris and state Rep. John Bradford of Charlotte.

Harris, a Baptist minister, finished first in the 2018 general election in a similarly situated congressional district. But the State Board of Elections ordered a new election after receiving allegations and evidence that a political operative who worked for Harris had run an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation. Several people ultimately entered plea convictions. Harris wasn’t charged. He called publicly for a new election in which he declined to run. Now, Harris says he was the victim of a “manufactured scandal.”

The five-member GOP field seeking to succeed McHenry in the 10th District — anchored by Iredell County while stretching to Winston-Salem and Lincolnton — includes 2022 congressional candidate Pat Harrigan and state Rep. Grey Mills. The winner will take on Democrat Ralph Scott Jr. and a Libertarian Party candidate in the fall.

Voting patterns and past election results show the reconfigured 1st District — covering all or parts of 22 eastern counties — as the likely lone toss-up race in November. The district is currently represented by first-term Democratic Rep. Don Davis, who beat Republican Sandy Smith in 2022 and is seeking reelection. Smith is competing with ex-Army colonel Laurie Buckhout for the GOP nomination. Smith received Trump’s endorsement in 2022.

Other incumbents competing in the March 5 primaries are first-term Republican Rep. Chuck Edwards in the far-western 11th District; GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx in the northwestern 5th District; Richard Hudson in the Piedmont and Sandhills-area 9th District; and Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross in the Raleigh-dominated 2nd District.