With only six weeks till North Carolina’s primary election, legislative and congressional candidates have been working on getting as much attention to their campaign as possible to represent their party this November. While not being North Carolina’s toss-up congressional districts, few races have gotten as much attention as North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.
Much of this has been due to the antics of North Carolina lightning rod, Congressman Madison Cawthorn. Cawthorn seems to find a new controversy every week for Democrats to talk about and to force Republican leadership to run behind him with the proverbial fire extinguisher. While election experts can argue that having a candidate’s name constantly in the media is a good thing, giving them free name recognition, it also means your opponents and their negatives fly under the radar.
That is currently the case for the Democrats in the 11th Congressional District, who held several debates in the last few weeks. Democratic candidates for 11th have advocated for policies such as a $24 minimum wage, U.S. hacking of Chinese companies, free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, and universal Pre-K. While Asheville is a significant portion of the district’s population and known as the progressive bastion for the western part of the state, the Democratic candidates of the 11th are pushing even further into the extreme progressive camp of the Democratic party even for this area. The continued leftward lurch for the Democrats is not unique to the mountains and provides insight into why Democrats are having trouble getting any footing in conservative-leaning districts.
In a recent WLOS interview, former 11th District Congressman Heath Shuler (D) talked about his time representing the western part of the state and how he was able to win as a Democrat in that conservative area. Schuler claimed his stances as pro-life and pro-Second amendment helped him stay in office and that not being far to the left was the way to win the district for Democrats. The current 11th District is slightly different geographically from Schuler’s old seat, with only a somewhat larger part of Rutherford County being the difference.
NC 11th Congressional District 2022
NC 11th Congressional District 2000
While the Western part of North Carolina is a consistently conservative area (apart from Asheville), the new 11th District is far friendlier to Democrats than it has been in recent history.
The 11th District, while not a toss-up election, is theoretically a district Democrats can win. Both FiveThirtyEight and the Civitas Center for Public Integrity only rate the district as “lean Republican,” making this a potential pick up should Democrats run a well-funded campaign with a moderate candidate who can persuade conservative voters. The problem is Democrats are not running these types of candidates. Hard-left progressive candidates dominate the Democratic primary.
The issue for Democrats is not that this is a gerrymandered seat, as some progressive groups and a more liberal-leaning Republican have claimed. The problem for Democrats is simple; the mountains of North Carolina are not the same as progressive areas like New York City, Charlotte, or Chapel Hill. Their extremist left-wing policies will not win over conservatives anywhere in North Carolina, least of all in the western part of the state. That is why Democrats are continuing to lose ground and will have a hard time overturning even slightly Republican-leaning districts in the future. If Democrats want to take advantage of specific controversial candidates to try and win elections they need to stop this relentless march further and further to the left.
Jim Stirling is a research fellow at Locke’s Civitas Center for Public Integrity.