A Look at the NC-13 Congressional Race
As November draws near, some congressional races have grown even more contested. Such is the case for the NC-13th congressional race. Ted Budd, the incumbent Republican, is facing the strong showing of Democratic challenger Kathy Manning. While the biggest checks have been written for the NC-09 race, the NC-13 is another prime spot for the Democrats to pick off a Republican incumbent and inch closer and closer to a majority in the House.
Congressional District 13 spans the northern suburbs of Charlotte and continues further north to encompass the towns of Salisbury, Mooresville, High Point, and a sizable chunk of Greensboro. The locale reflects many phenomena of US politics. While rural areas of the district voted overwhelmingly for Trump, the urban areas of Salisbury, High Point, and Greensboro are saturated with Democratic voters. The outcome of the vote, in fact, often depends on the turnout in the cities relative to the rural areas. In some cases, the divide is so extreme that neighboring precincts can swing from Trump +58 to Clinton +80.8.
The history of the NC-13th is a bit tougher to nail down. The district was first created after the 2000 census, but its representational layout then is largely unrecognizable today. For the first 13 years following its inception, the district was represented by a Democrat, indicating its liberal leanings. After the 2010 census, NC-13 was redrawn to reflect a more conservative layout. Finally, it was redrawn again in 2016 following a mandatory court ruling. These changes resulted in a swing from Obama +19 in 2008 to Trump +9 in 2016. Trump’s margin of victory in comparison to Romney’s +14 edge in 2012 perhaps points to internal division within the GOP. At the end of the day, though, the Cook Partisan Voter Index (PVI) rates the NC-13th as R+6, which is even less Republican than the NC-09. If Kathy Manning can prove herself to be a strong campaigner, the Democrats have a real shot at winning it.
Ted Budd, a 46-year-old small business owner, is perhaps a textbook example of the Tea Party movement. His campaign showcases a litany of humble photos that present Budd’s down-to-earth style and wholesome family. His platform is exactly what you’d expect from this type of campaign: a strong emphasis on fiscal responsibility. Budd’s platform primarily focuses on government spending and taxes, and he was a vocal proponent of the GOP tax cuts from last year. Budd also seeks to capitalize on his freshman status as a Congressman, attempting to paint himself as an outsider to Washington. Social conservatism also plays a large role in his personal policy preferences, as Budd openly supports building a wall on the southern border and has called for the prosecution of illegal immigrants. He furthermore holds traditionally conservative positions on abortion. It’s also worth noting that Second Amendment issues get their own paragraph in Budd’s platform. He highlights the fact that he owns a gun store and pledges to protect the right to bear arms.
Overall, Budd is attempting, much like Mark Harris in the NC-09, to ignite the same fire that Trump did in 2016. The difference arises in the policy issues each has chosen to champion. Budd is a fiscal hawk first and a social purist second. Harris is the opposite. This means that Budd’s reelection hopes are contingent on his ability to convince voters to ignore the constant avalanche of issues that distract from the improving economy. This might be difficult, given that the GOP tax cut is fairly unpopular. Budd will have to overcome anti-Trump sentiment and dissatisfaction with current GOP economic policy if he wishes to remain in Congress.
Kathy Manning, on the other hand, is a former immigration lawyer with extensive experience in the non-profit sector. Her campaign has emphasized her working class roots and values of of hard work and perseverance. A graduate of Harvard University and University of Michigan Law School, she has held leadership positions in numerous non-profits such as United Way and institutions like the University of North Carolina at Greensboro but has not previously run for public office. On the campaign trail, she has made clear her commitment to the community, highlighting initiatives like creating job training and education assistance programs, and providing food to the hungry. Manning has received recognition for her community-building work, having been honored with the 2014 Charles Duncan McIver Award given by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the 2013 Jim Roach Downtown Person of the Year Award.
Manning’s campaign platform prioritizes healthcare and job growth, particularly through social programs like affordable education, job training, and a stronger focus on women’s health. Her rhetoric on the trail has discussed political reform through less party polarization and more bipartisan support for proposals like congressional term limits. Considering Congress’s decline to repeal the Affordable Care Actin 2017 and the relative unpopularity of the GOP tax cuts, it seems Manning is placing importance on issues that will mobilize support for her on both sides of the political aisle. This campaign strategy is very reminiscent of Dan McCready in NC-09.
Manning has faced scrutiny for her support of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. While the candidate has donated to Nancy Pelosi in the past, she has pledged not to support Pelosi’s candidacy for Speaker of the House if the latter pursues the position. The Pelosi issue is a microcosm of Manning’s tough road ahead as a challenger. On one hand, the district has enough Democratic votes to win if their turnout is excited enough by a liberal campaign. On the other, that turnout is unreliable, and it could lose her necessary Republican support if she leans too far left. Only time will tell if she can walk that tightrope.
Can Manning steal the seat from Budd? Considering how each has handled campaign expenditures, it’s a very real possibility. Budd has encountered fundraising woes since the beginning of the campaign. Now, he lags behind Manning with only $1.1M raised and $778K cash on hand. Manning has raised $1.9M with $1.3M cash on hand.
Both candidates have allocated some of their funds to campaign advertisements. Manning’s first, which aired last April, focused on her background in philanthropy and highlighted her community-building efforts. The second, airing in mid-August, decried political gridlock in Washington and reassured her commitment to opposing Nancy Pelosi and supporting congressional term limits.
Budd also aired two commercials around the same times as his opponent. The first focused on the GOP tax plan, highlighting the jobs it brought back to North Carolina. The second focused on Budd’s commitment to alleviating the opioid crisis. Both sides have largely refrained from airing attack ads about the other, which may signal a growing weariness among the district’s voters to divisive politics.
Manning and Budd have demonstrated similar campaign strategies on the trail. Both are attempting to paint the other as an insider who won’t represent the true interests of the 13th District. This is largely why Manning has had to spend a significant amount of time fighting off claims that she is just another acolyte of Nancy Pelosi.
The campaign ads, rhetoric, and expenditure breakdowns are shaping this race into a narrow one, especially as November approaches. Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Cook Political Report, and RealClearPolitics all rate this race as Lean Republican. FiveThirtyEight, relying on a mathematical analysis of polling and demographic data from the district, has rated the race as a Toss-Up, projecting that both candidates have an equal chance of winning with the same projected vote share of 48.3%. As the breakneck speed of politics informs the nation’s political leanings, these ratings may change. It’s likely that the race will become even more competitive as November 6th approaches.
Like the NC-09 race, this race will be close. As long as neither candidate makes any critical gaffes, it may come down to a single percentage point. In the national context, the NC-13th is exactly the type of district that the Democrats need to flip to take the House, so experts will be watching closely. The outcome may decide the state’s direction for years to come.