February 23, 2018 In The News, News

The DISPATCH: Political scientists weigh in on 13th District race

At the end of January, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a list of districts across the country that it will target in an effort to flip the U.S. House of Representatives to a Democratic majority in November.

On that list are three North Carolina Congressional Districts, including the 13th, which represents all of Davie and Davidson counties, most of Iredell County and portions of Rowan and Guilford counties.

First-term Republican Rep. Ted Budd has served since January 2017 and is making his first bid for re-election. A couple of political analysts agree that the district is mostly conservative, but also believe the 13th District has the potential to be competitive by November.

Dr. J. Michael Bitzer, provost and professor of political science at Catawba College, said that midterm elections are typically referendums on the president and that the president’s party generally loses seats.

Bitzer also noted that in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump received 53 percent of the vote in the district, which according to the political scientist, is a sign of a competitive district.

However, the political scientist said Budd slightly over-performed by receiving 56 percent of the vote in the 2016 election, and he cited a recent Meredith College poll that had a generic ballot with the two parties tied in the state.

“The question is, can these districts, if there is a Democratic wave, insulate Republicans at a sufficient level,” Bitzer said. “So if things switch from the Meredith poll to Democrats having a six-point advantage or an eight-point advantage, how big is the wall around these districts to prevent a Democratic wave from crashing over. I think the 9th District is going to get the most national attention, but certainly the 13th will get some attention as well.”

A part of that potential Democratic wave is Greensboro lawyer Kathy Manning, who filed for the 13th District race on Wednesday.

The Cook Political Report, a national newsletter that analyzes elections, recently switched N.C.’s 13th Congressional District from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican” after it was revealed that Manning raised $564,000 in the final quarter of 2017 while Budd raised $183,000. Additionally, Manning reportedly had $522,000 cash on hand, while Budd had $300,000.

Kyle Kondik, director of communications at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that Democratic fundraising across many House districts has been successful, and that it can sometimes be a negative sign if an incumbent gets out-raised by a challenger.

“We have a pretty stark example of that in North Carolina 13,” Kondik said. “That’s a really big gap. So money’s not everything, but Manning is raising money at a level that will attract national interest from Democratic outside groups and should allow her to run a credible campaign against Budd. … That’s probably one of the worst challenger-to-incumbent fundraising ratios in the whole country. There’s some good signs there for the Democrats, but again, this is also a district that certainly leans Republican naturally.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee selected Manning for its Red to Blue program. According to its website, the program arms top candidates with organizational and fundraising support. Manning has also been endorsed by Emily’s List, a national organization that supports Democratic women pro-choice candidates. Emily’s List raised more than $90 million in the 2016 election cycle.

Manning, who has traveled more than 750 miles across the 13th District in the past two months, said the main issues she’s hearing about are jobs, health care and education.

The Democratic candidate said she believes people in the district are upset with what’s going on in Washington, D.C., and that people are willing to make a change.

“My whole life has been based on my family, hard work, getting a good education, my faith and the belief that if you work hard, you should be able to build a better future for yourself and your children,” Manning said. “No matter what party people are affiliated with, I think they share those values. I’m confident that if people get to know me across the district and know what my values are, they’re going to look at more of who I am and what I’ve done than what my party affiliation is.”

Budd declined to comment for the story.

In a press release regarding his re-election bid, Budd said that during his first term, he fought the effort to bring back “wasteful” earmarks, cosponsored legislation to combat the opioid crisis and worked to make it easier to deport gang members who are illegal immigrants.

The congressman described himself as a reformer who has worked hard on tax reform and regulatory reform.

“We’ve made good progress, but must keep moving forward,” Budd said in the news release.“The federal government is still too big, and N.C. taxpayers deserve someone who won’t back down to Washington insiders. I have a heart for service and I remain committed to this community’s conservative solutions. Our positive, pro-growth policies are under attack every day, and the last thing our families need is a limousine liberal elitist helping Nancy Pelosi enact her job-killing agenda.”

Kondik said there is a possibility that some Republican House members may get caught unaware in November because they think their districts are safe. The political analyst added that national Republicans have hammered their own members with the idea that they have to run carefully.

According to Kondik, many of the other House members in North Carolina aren’t used to running in a potentially negative midterm environment, which could open the door for a Democratic candidate.

“Now it may be that the district is too Republican for a Democrat to win these days, but it’s not overwhelmingly Republican,” Kondik said. “Manning should have the resources to get her message out and also it’s probably going to be a pro-Democratic environment — maybe by a little, maybe by a lot. I still think you’d rather be Budd than Manning, but it’s one of many House races that looks like it’s going to be more competitive.”

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