North Carolina 4th District
Back in the 1950s, few people would have predicted that the countryside around Raleigh and Durham would become one of America’s high-tech boom areas. But Democratic Gov. Luther Hodges did, and he started the 6,900-acre Research Triangle Park as a research-and-development industrial park between the musty state capital of Raleigh, the Lucky Strike-manufacturing city of Durham, and the small university town of Chapel Hill. With the drawing power of three universities—North Carolina State in Raleigh, Duke in Durham, and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill—Research Triangle Park slowly began attracting top-tier R&D organizations, which in turn spawned a dynamic entrepreneurial sector. Today, the big-name employers there include IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, Cisco, Nortel, and RTI International. There are smaller businesses too. A little more than half of Triangle employers had 10 or fewer employees. A sleepy metro area that once trailed the nation in income is now a vibrant, affluent metropolis and the prime engine of North Carolina’s growth. The Raleigh-Durham airport, which had four gates in the 1970s, has expanded steadily and will have 60 gates by 2010. Local planners are working on a light-rail system for the area.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Three decades of solid economic growth have made the Triangle affluent and one of the nation’s hottest job markets. But it still prides itself on its homier touches, from slow-cooked pit barbecue to a minor-league baseball stadium in Durham that features a smoke-snorting replica of a bull, a prop made famous by the movie set in the region, Bull Durham. College basketball makes the headlines here, and UNC, NC State, and Duke have fielded more March Madness contenders than any similarly sized area. This combination of upscale and down-home has proved to be a popular draw. From 1990 to 2007, the Raleigh-Durham metro area grew by 75%, from 855,000 to 1.5 million. The area’s one setback in recent years was the notorious Duke lacrosse rape case, in which Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong charged three Duke players with rape based on evidence so thin the charges were dropped. Nifong resigned in 2007 and was stripped of his law license. Three players later settled a civil suit against the city.
The 4th Congressional District of North Carolina covers much of the fast-growing Research Triangle area. It includes Durham County and Chapel Hill’s Orange County, part of Chatham County to the south and a little less than half of Wake County. Politics here revolves around cultural issues. The Democratic base here is made up of two parts: the black community, with 19% of the district’s population, and whites and blacks with postgraduate degrees. Black Enterprise magazine ranks the region as the third-best in the nation (behind Washington, D.C., and Atlanta) for African-Americans to live and work. This part of the Triangle has one of the highest concentrations of Ph.D.s in the nation, and their livelihoods—in academia, in the sciences, in the social services—tend to depend on government. Durham and Orange counties are heavily Democratic, usually that party’s strongest area in North Carolina, except for a few rural counties with large African-American percentages. The burgeoning suburbs of Wake County are pretty heavily Republican, like so many fast-growing areas at the edge of metropolitan development across the nation, and provide some counterweight. On balance, though, this is a district that votes for Democrats, not only local moderates but also liberals like Barack Obama, who got 62% in the district in 2008.