North Carolina 7th District
Southernmost North Carolina was long a somnolent part of America. Its one port, Wilmington, was far overshadowed by Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk, Va. Its miles of beaches seemed too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter to attract many tourists. Its inland farmlands were mainly planted in tobacco. Tobacco was America’s first export crop, and one that can be cultivated profitably in only a few places in the world. Under the quota system established in 1938, tobacco farmers could make a living off small plots; it probably produced more voters per federally assisted acre than any other crop. But in recent decades, as smoking declined and tobacco companies were hit by lawsuits, tobacco fell out of favor with the public. In 2004, Congress passed a $10 billion buyout and in the process abolished the quota system. So tobacco farmers are diversifying; some have switched to blueberries, pumpkins, and other crops.
2008 Presidential Vote
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The coastal counties of southern North Carolina and some inland counties, nevertheless, have been growing fast. One reason is the military. Wilmington is home to the World War II battleship USS North Carolina, and a little farther south, the Army runs the 16,000-acre Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point, the largest ammunition port in the United States, and the Army’s main deep-water port on the East Coast. The state is planning a new deep-water port in Brunswick County near Southport. Condominiums have sprouted along the beaches north and south of Wilmington, and tourism has boomed. This area also has some of the busiest American movie- and television-production facilities outside Los Angeles, and the state Legislature in 2006 approved new incentives to farther boost the business. In Sampson and Duplin counties, the growth industry is hog farming, which has been criticized by environmentalists for its enormous output of hog waste. One Smithfield Foods facility, which is believed to be the largest slaughterhouse in the world, handles 8.5 million animals a year. The company is among those researching the potential for turning the abundance of methane gas produced by the hog waste on the farms into a usable source of energy.
The 7th Congressional District of North Carolina covers much of this territory. The district consists of three main areas: the Wilmington region, with affluent condo dwellers along the beach and retiree subdivisions reclaimed from timbered-out pinelands further inland; the outskirts of Fayetteville, heavily dependent on Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base; and economically disadvantaged Robeson County, the home of the Lumbee Indians, whose origins have been lost to antiquity but who were recognized as a tribe by the state in 1885. For many years, this was a solidly Democratic district. Robeson County—with 20% of the district’s population, where whites, blacks, and Lumbees each constitute about a third of the population—remains heavily Democratic in both national and state elections. But the Wilmington area and the hog-farming counties are now Republican. The Fayetteville area and the old tobacco counties are politically marginal. The result is a district Republican in national contests but still Democratic in some state races. George W. Bush twice won the district, and Republican John McCain also won here in 2008, 52%-47%.