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Ideology and race could shape primaries in newly blue North Carolina districts

Simone Pathe, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Democrats are almost guaranteed to pick up two House seats in North Carolina this year, which means that the upcoming primaries will go a long way toward determining who comes to Congress.

In both the newly redrawn 2nd District, which is based in Raleigh, and the redrawn 6th District, which is rooted in Greensboro, Democrats have a good chance of nominating women with strong liberal backing. But the primaries in each district have raised questions about identity politics and ideology and who should represent what are now safe Democratic seats.

In both of those districts, white women who have run recent races in competitive territory have a strong financial advantage over black female candidates who support Medicare for All. And while money isn't everything, especially where candidates have local connections, that's given them a leg up in communicating their message on a tight timeline. The district maps were set in December, and the primary is on March 3.

In the 2nd District, for example, Deborah Ross, a former state representative and state director for the American Civil Liberties Union, ran for Senate in 2016. She faces three other Democrats, including Wake County School Board Member Monika Johnson-Hostler, who received the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC this week.

"Ross has too much money. You're not going to run to the left of an ACLU attorney," said a Democratic strategist in the state. "Much of the district is well-educated, progressive white people," the strategist added. Ross had a double-digit lead over Johnson-Hostler in her own internal survey from January.

But black women are a key part of the Democratic primary electorate, especially in North Carolina. In the new 6th District, nearly 50% of Democratic primary voters in 2016 were black. Nearly 30% were black in the new 2nd District, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections.

 

And for black women candidates, these two races have been reminders of the institutional barriers they continue to face in 2020, despite sending five new black women to the House in 2018.

"We are told to come to the polls but we are not supported on the ballot," said Rhonda Foxx, who's running in the 6th District along with four other Democrats. Foxx is the former chief of staff to North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams.

"There is no recruitment toward demographics. We can't say, 'As long as there's some Democrat in this district,'" Foxx said. She pointed to other black women on the ballot this year, including Johnson-Hostler and state Sen. Erica Smith, who is running for Senate, and questioned whether they are supported by the party's infrastructure.

"I am very concerned about the state and condition of black women in American politics," she said.

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