North Carolina 5th District
From the Atlantic Ocean, the terrain of North Carolina rises slowly through the Piedmont, a transitional land of modest hills that lies between the coastal plain and the Blue Ridge mountains. The Blue Ridge, named for the mysterious blue haze that blankets it, provides the headwaters of the New River, which cuts majestic crevasses—alternately lush and mined-out—as it flows north to West Virginia. The lower Piedmont lands of North Carolina were first settled by independent-minded Scots-Irish farmers and by followers of British and German sects like the Moravians. This was hardscrabble farm country before the Civil War, with few slaves. By the late 19th century, it was becoming industrialized, with textile mills alongside streams, furniture factories not far from hardwood forests, and R.J. Reynolds’ cigarette factories in Winston-Salem. The Piedmont economy was hailed as the basis of a progressive New South, although textile mills paid low wages and tobacco employed fewer workers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Today, the region’s pharmaceutical companies, banking institutions, and high-skill Piedmont factories have contributed to the state’s overall affluence. Lowe’s, the $31 billion home-improvement giant, is based in Wilkesboro, population 3,200. The merger of banking giants Wachovia and First Union proved bittersweet for Winston-Salem, Wachovia’s home base since 1879. First Union let the new company keep Wachovia’s name but shifted its headquarters to Charlotte. In 2005, Dell opened a plant in Winston-Salem that produced 2 million computers and 1,100 jobs in its first year. However, Dell’s future in the region was clouded by its attempt in 2008 to sell its factories nationwide. New wineries are gaining recognition in the Yadkin Valley. Yet large swaths of the region remain rural, from chicken-raising Wilkes County to Appalachian State University in Boone (named for Daniel), a center for resurgent pride in the culture of Appalachia, a region so often the target of either pity or condescension. In September 2007, the university’s football team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history when it defeated the University of Michigan in a game at Ann Arbor.
All of these places lie within the boundaries of the 5th Congressional District. The 5th begins in the heart of the Piedmont: the suburbs of Winston-Salem (though not the city, which is in the 12th District). From there, it drops south just short of the outer fringes of metropolitan Charlotte. It heads west and north to the Tennessee line, taking in mountain communities like Boone. The core of its population base is the Winston-Salem suburbs in Forsyth County, plus small industrial cities in Stokes and Surry counties, including Mount Airy, the model for Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show. The district is solidly Republican.