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New NC maps will make New Hanover state senate fight tough on newcomer Democrat

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Four strongly Democratic precincts in downtown Wilmington have been carved out of the county and added to the Republican stronghold of the neighboring district.

Former Brunswick County prosecutor Jason Minnicozzi is set to challenge Republican State Senator Michael Lee for the Senate District 7. But the Democratic candidate will have to compete under newly approved maps — which carve several strongly Democratic precincts out of downtown Wilmington, adding them to heavily Republican Senate District 8, which includes Columbus and Brunswick counties.

Minnicozzi had earlier announced his intention to challenge Congressman David Rouzer for the 7th Congressional District, which would have been a tough political road — a crowded Democratic primary followed by a battle against a well-funded Republican incumbent who has easily defeated other recent challenges.

However, that changed when Adam Ericson decided to leave the race for State Senate and endorse Minnicozzi, saying in a statement, "[l]ike many families, responsibilities to aging parents have increased through the pandemic, and our family is no different. For this reason, I am withdrawing my candidacy for Senate District 7 and will not be filing for office. I want to thank everyone for their support and want to encourage everyone to welcome Jason Minnicozzi into the race. I am prepared to do whatever I can to send Jason to Raleigh, and I am certain he will do a fantastic job representing the people of New Hanover County in the General Assembly."

A competitive district, a potent carve-out

North Carolina's 7th senate district has been fiercely contested over the last two elections, with Democrat Harper Peterson and Republican Michael Lee coming within (or close to) recount margins both times — Peterson won in 2018, Lee retook his seat in 2020.

When Peterson won in 2018, it was by less than 250 votes — 42,257 to 42,026, with 2,671 going to a Libertarian candidate many felt pulled from Lee's campaign. The close race was made even tighter by a carve-out of two districts in downtown Wilmington, W03 and W29, where Democratic candidate David Sink trounced Republican incumbent Bill Rabon.

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Two downtown Wilmington precincts carved out of District 7 (New Hanover) and added to District 8 (Brunswick, Columbus) in 2018.

The carve-out pulled 1,596 Democratic votes and 99 Republican votes out of the District 7 and put them in Rabon's thoroughly red district, which could easily absorb them. The carve-out made Peterson's narrow victory an even tighter squeeze.

That carve-out was challenged, along with other gerrymanders, by the 2018 Common Cause lawsuit filed after the election and were removed for the 2020 election; it was replaced with a geographically larger, but less populated, carve-out at the northern end of the county.

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The 2020 carve-out in northern New Hanover County removed nearly twice as many Republican as Democratic voters from the district.

This carve-out actually leaned Republican nearly 2:1, meaning the 2020 carve-out pulled more Republican than Democrat voters — 1,295 vs. 740 — and gave Peterson a small boost that year, but not enough to defeat Lee in their rematch.

The most recent state maps — approved after a tumultuous flurry of court filings and decisions — return the carve-out to its 2018 location, and expands it.

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Four precincts shifted from district 7 to district 8 for the 2022 election.

The 2022 carve-out removes roughly 5,100 Democratic votes and 2,700 Republican votes and puts them in Rabon's district — meaning about 2,400 fewer Democratic votes in the 7th. For a district that's been decided, twice, by only a few hundred votes, that's bound to add some political drag to Minnicozzi's race for the state senate seat.

Filing for 2022

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Jason Minnicozzi, Democratic candidate for North Carolina Senate District 7.

Still, Minnicozzi remains confident and aims to unseat Lee, releasing a statement to WHQR on Wednesday evening.

I was raised in a working-class household by a family who prioritized education and taught me the value of hard work and service to one’s community. That is why I have dedicated my career to helping my neighbors and why I am running to represent New Hanover County in the North Carolina Senate. For far too long, New Hanover has suffered because politicians care more about partisan politics than effective policy. We deserve leadership that will fight to bring jobs back to our communities, defend our teachers and schools, expand access to health care and high-speed internet, and protect our coastline and infrastructure from climate change. As your Senator, I promise to always put New Hanover County first and to always stand up for our people at home.

Minnicozzi was previously a prosecutor for District Attorney Jon David's office, serving Brunswick, Bladen, and Columbus counties and a public defender for New Hanover County.