North Carolina 1st District
In colonial days, eastern North Carolina was a smaller version of the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Virginia and Maryland, a fertile land laced by dozens of rivers and inlets, with tobacco plantations and farms with docks on waterways that were accessible to the ocean and so to London. North Carolina was settled later than the Chesapeake colonies, and was poorer, with smaller landholdings. But vestiges of its 18th-century past can still be seen in New Bern with its Tryon Palace, the governor’s house when this was the capital, and in the tiny, well-preserved town of Edenton on Albemarle Sound, where 51 women in 1774 protested the taxing of tea and cloth. It is considered the first women’s political protest on these shores.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Today, east Carolina survives with remnants of Tobacco Road, and is still largely inhabited by the descendants of the original white settlers and black slaves of 250 years ago. They live in small towns and cities and in some of the most thickly settled rural land in the United States. Tobacco was a labor-intensive crop that for many years produced yields of $4,000 an acre; a family lucky enough to have a tobacco quota could make a living off 40 acres. In 2004, Congress enacted a $10 billion buyout of quota holders, and many old east Carolina tobacco fields are now planted with cucumbers, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and especially cotton. Tobacco’s political influence has diminished as well. Hog farming in this area makes North Carolina the second-largest producer behind Iowa. But there have been socioeconomic troubles in this region in recent years. Several rural counties have had high HIV infection rates. Seven counties in northeast North Carolina lost population from 2000 to 2006. Perdue closed a chicken-processing plant, and even fast-food giant Hardee’s, founded here in Rocky Mount, decamped to St. Louis. In Beaufort County, more than one-third of African-Americans live in poverty.
The 1st Congressional District of North Carolina is among the poorest in the nation. It covers much of the old tobacco country of east Carolina, touches Albemarle and Pamlico sounds in the east, and juts inland to reach African-American neighborhoods in Greenville and Goldsboro. It includes Halifax County, the state’s No. 1 deer-hunting county. Together, the 1st and the 3rd districts blanket the eastern quarter of the state, with intricately drawn boundaries whose fingers reach deep into each other’s territory, like clasped hands. There is a political reason for this. The 1st is 50% percent black, the highest percentage of any district in the state, and solidly though not overwhelmingly Democratic. The 3rd is only 16% African-American and, with retirees and new residents in fast-growing coastal counties, votes heavily Republican. The 1st is also notable for its curious gender ratio: In 2006, there were 55,000 more female voters here than male voters—a greater disparity than in any other congressional district in the state.