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Rep. Renee Ellmers is attacking the authenticity of her main challenger for re-election in North Carolina’s 2nd District – a fellow member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
"You know, the congressman doesn’t live in District 2," Ellmers said of her rival in the Republican primary, Rep. George Holding, in a recent debate. "I don’t want my family and friends to be represented by someone that doesn’t experience the same things that we are all experiencing. He can’t even vote for himself."
In a recent redrawing of district lines, Holding’s 13th District was moved halfway across the state. It now runs between Mooresville and Greensboro. Holding’s home was placed in the 4th District, a solidly Democratic district represented by longtime Rep. David Price.
But a quirk of U.S. election law is that you don’t have to live in a congressional district to represent it. So Holding chose to run for neither his current district nor the one he will be living in, but for the 2nd District represented by Ellmers, who has been the target of attacks from some conservative groups for not always voting the party line.
Ellmers is right that Holding doesn’t live in the district he wants to represent. But does that mean he "doesn’t experience the same things that we are all experiencing"? The line implies he’s not familiar with the people who would be his constituents.
And Ellmers doubled down, creating a website devoted entirely to the fact that Holding doesn’t live in the 2nd District.
"Do you think someone who does not live in the 2nd district, and does not understand the needs of the 2nd district should be representing it?" the website asks, alongside a picture of Holding sleeping in Congress, from 2013.
But Holding says he does understand the district, and we’re inclined to agree. In fact, the new 2nd District will contain far more people and places that Holding currently represents than Ellmers currently represents.
"You know, I’m born and raised in Wake County," Holding responded to Ellmers during the recent debate. "Five generations of my family are from Wake County and Johnston County. When they redrew the district, they drew my neighborhood six miles out of the boundary. Hard for you to say I’m not part of this community."
Six miles is a relatively short distance for a district that stretches for about a two-hour drive from its southwest end in Johnsonville to its northeast extremes in Whitakers.
We looked up Holding’s house in the Wake County property records and found that’s true – his swanky cul-du-sac near Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood is less than six miles from the closest 2nd District homes in north Raleigh and seven miles from the boundary in south Raleigh.
The current lines
The 2nd district that Ellmers currently represents includes all of Moore County as well as parts of Alamance, Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Randolph and Wake counties. She won both the 2012 and 2014 elections with those boundaries.
But seven of those nine counties will not be in the new 2nd District. Harnett County and parts of Wake County will.
On the other hand, Holding’s current district, the 13th, was largely the basis for the new 2nd. In addition to Harnett County and the Wake County suburbs, it will also include parts of Franklin, Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties.
Holding currently represents many of the same parts of Franklin, Nash and Wilson counties. But his constituency also includes parts of Edgecombe, Granville, Vance and Wayne counties, which won’t be part of the new 2nd.
Comparing old, new boundaries
In terms of both population and geography, Holding currently represents a much larger proportion of what will be the new district.
Yet for whomever is elected (unless Brannon pulls an upset), the challenges of this new district won’t be much different from the district he or she currently represents – trying to balance the needs of wealthier suburban constituents with more impoverished rural areas, where unemployment remains higher.
The largest concentration of people in the new district will be the Wake County suburbs, which both incumbents currently represent parts of, although Holding has the lion's share.
Areas of the other five counties – Harnett, Franklinm Johnston, Nash and Wilson – have some suburban growth as well but tend to be more rural and less wealthy as they get further away from the Triangle.
The 2010 lines
Even though Holding currently represents most of what will be the 2nd District, Ellmers is also familiar with the territory.
Many of the areas that are now in the 13th and after November will be in the 2nd were also part of a previous version of the 2nd. Some of the voters who live in those areas elevated Ellmers to power in the first place in 2010, when she unseated incumbent Democrat Bob Etheridge.
"Many of the areas in the current ‘new map’ are areas that Congresswoman Ellmers was initially elected in during the 2010 election and areas that she served during her first term (2011-2013)," wrote her chief of staff, Al Lytton, in an email. "This included all of Franklin County, 2/3 of Nash County, all of Johnston County, all of Harnett County and portions of southern Wake County."
Three boundary changes in six years, with populations shifting back and forth and back again into different districts? Maybe there’s a reason so many people don’t know who represents them in Washington.
Ellmers said Holding doesn’t live in the 2nd District and thus doesn’t understand the experiences of its constituents.
While he doesn’t live in the district, Holding does represent most of the people who will be in the new 2nd District.
Some of the areas will be new to him, and he will lose some of his current constituents. But on the whole, if Holding wins the election, this district’s challenges and needs will be largely the same as his current district’s. We rate this claim Mostly False.
Video of WRAL debate, May 19, 2016
The News & Observer, Feb. 17, 2016, "Republicans propose major changes to NC congressional districts"
The News & Observer, May 21, 2016, "Conservative bonafides at issue in 2nd District Republican primary"
"Wrong District, Wrong For Us" website run by Renee Ellmers’ campaign
Email interview with Ellmers chief of staff Al Lytton
George Holding address, via Wake County Property Records public data
New Congressional districts interactive map, North Carolina State Board of Elections
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