Census Quick Cuts: North Carolina, Nebraska, Delaware
The Census Bureau released detailed data for three more states this week: North Carolina, Nebraska, and Delaware. North Carolina is one of Republicans' best opportunities for redistricting success. All three states, which have major agricultural industries, saw significant growth in their Hispanic communities, as many Latinos moved in for meatpacking and poultry jobs.
-- North Carolina's population grew by 18.5% in the last decade, but it did not gain another congressional seat. Much of the state saw substantial growth, with huge population gains in the areas around the Research Triangle (near the college campuses of Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and NC State) and greater Charlotte. The state's African American population grew proportionately and remains at 21% of the state population, and the Latino population more than doubled. Hispanics now make up more than 8% of the state's population.
The growth in the state's more liberal areas, especially the Research Triangle, likely helped Democrats in the latter part of the decade, as Gov. Bev Perdue, Sen. Kay Hagan and President Obama all won in a state that had in the past leaned Republican. Obama's narrow win in North Carolina was the first for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won there in 1976.
But Democrats' gains at the statewide level unraveled in 2010, and a state that had long gone for Republicans in federal races and Democrats in local races may be moving away from both traditions. While only one of the four Democratic House members who faced tough races last fall lost, the state House and Senate flipped to the GOP, the first time since 1868 the Republicans have controlled the state Senate.
Perdue remains governor, but North Carolina's laws say the governor has no say in redistricting. This means that the careful gerrymander Democrats drew a decade ago, which has largely held up, will almost certainly be undone this year. There are currently seven Democrats and six Republicans in the state delegation. Republicans could target as many as four of those Democrats, although they may stop short of that in order to ensure that their lines hold up throughout the decade and to avoid any danger of running afoul of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority populations from being manipulated during redistricting.
Rep. Heath Shuler (D) showed he could weather a tough challenge in a Republican-leaning district last cycle, and his district is a bit harder to tinker with because it's in the corner of the state and can only grow into Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry's district.
The Democrats who should be more nervous are Reps. Brad Miller, Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell. All three faced competitive races last year in districts designed for Democrats. But Republicans will have to balance their ambitions against the reality that the state has been growing more liberal demographically in the last decade and that freshman Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers is in a very balanced district that went for Obama in 2008. Which of these Democrats is targeted may well depend on which North Carolina state legislators are most eager to run for the U.S. House.
-- Nebraska grew by 6.7% overall and retained its three House seats. The fastest growth by far was around the two largest cities of Omaha and Lincoln in the east, while most counties in the rural western and central parts of the state lost population. As in other plains states with meatpacking and agricultural industry, the state's Latino population has spiked in the last decade: Hispanics are now 9% of the state's total population, up from 5.5% a decade ago and just 2% in 1990. The non-Hispanic white population has dropped to 82% of the state's population. In fact, the few areas outside of the Lincoln and Omaha areas that grew, like Grand Island and Lexington, did so because of a jump in the Hispanic population.
The state's uneven growth means that the congressional district around Omaha will have to shrink, and the district encompassing much of the state to the east of Lincoln will have to grow substantially. The state legislature is unicameral and while nominally non-partisan, it leans heavily Republican.
Democrats have run serious races in all three congressional districts in the last decade despite the state's Republican traditions. Rep. Lee Terry (R) in Omaha has faced especially tough races, winning a smaller percentage of the vote in each election from 1998 until the last election and almost losing in 2008, as his district went narrowly for Obama that year. It may be difficult for the state legislature to make Terry's district much more Republican without turning the neighboring Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's (R) district, anchored by the college town of Lincoln, into a marginal district one.
-- Delaware's population grew by 14.6% and it now has almost 900,000 people, enough for just one congressional district. Unlike in many states whose populations have shifted towards the suburbs and small cities and away from rural areas, Delaware's growth occurred mostly in the less populous south and center of the state: New Castle County in the state's north dropped from 64% to 60% of the state's population.
The state's Hispanic population nearly doubled and Latinos are now 8% of the state's population, while the African American population grew to 21% of the state's population. Many Hispanics have come to work in the state's huge poultry industry. While Wilmington shrank a bit, Dover, in the state's center, grew steadily.
The state is usually Democratic, but the growing power of conservatives from the south of the state in Kent and Sussex Counties, at least in the Republican Party, was shown in Christine O'Donnell's surprise Senate primary win over longtime moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle.
While Obama and favorite son VP Joe Biden carried the state comfortably, George W. Bush did better here in 2004 than in 2000, taking 46% of the vote, and the state has trended more Republican in the last decade. If Republicans can nominate candidates with crossover appeal here, they could once again compete in the First State.