U.S. House Incumbents In North Carolina Have Outraised Their Challengers By Millions

Nov 1, 2016

In a state where political advertisements dominate the airwaves for presidential, senate and gubernatorial races, very little focus has been given to the 13 congressional house races.

“On the one hand it’s not surprising at all, because they have gerrymandered these (districts),” said Mark Nance, an N.C. State University assistant professor of Public and International Affairs.

Following the money, it seems donors hold very little hope for a challenger’s success. Of the 13 congressional races, 12 feature an incumbent. Only the 13th District does not include an incumbent because George Holding, a Republican, was moved into the 2nd District and defeated incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers in the primary.

In those 12 races, the incumbents have raised a combined $14.8 million, compared with just $1.1 million for challengers.

“There are just remarkably few districts across the country, and none in North Carolina, that are even really leaning,” said Nance. “Really, they are just locked down.”

U.S. House incumbents in North Carolina have outraised their challengers.
Credit Campaign finance reports / FEC

This compared with tens of millions of dollars that spent in statewide races, where there is no advantage of gerrymandered districts. The Center for Public Integrity tracks political advertisement spending and found that the metro areas of the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte have received some of the most attention in the entire country, signifying this is an evenly divided state.

The effects of gerrymandering districts in North Carolina is clear. For years, North Carolina’s congressional delegation remained relatively split, much like the state as a whole, which voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but Mitt Romney in 2012. After a Republican-controlled General Assembly redrew district maps, however, the congressional delegation skewed heavily red and now Republicans control 10 of 13 seats, even though the state as a whole is considered evenly split.

“To me, I take this as inspiration to care even more about state politics because it’s the state leaders that are drawing these districts and are doing this and that are really, I think, corrupting the democratic process as it’s playing out,” Nance said.

As these House races are considered uncompetitive, it raises the question of why donors would give cash to relatively safe seats at all. Nance said these donations are a way to get face time with the candidate later. Because the candidate is likely to win, the donors can give money with a high degree of confidence that they are betting on the winner.

The N.C. Congressional delegation has skewed Republican since district were redrawn.
Credit Library of Congress

“This to me is again another piece of evidence that gerrymandering is damaging to the democratic process because it ensures these seats,” said Nance. “So you as [an] 'investor,' in giving these campaign contributions, basically know that you are giving money to people who are going to be making decisions. So it’s inviting corruption."

George Holding, for example, has raised cash from political action committees like Reynolds American, Ernst and Young and the American Hospital Association.

“The people giving millions and millions of dollars to these kinds of races expect to have undue influence as a result of that,” said Nance.