Republican Rep. George Holding announced on Friday that he would not seek re-election, acknowledging that North Carolina’s newly redrawn congressional districts “were part of the reason” for his decision.
Those new boundaries, brought about by a recent lawsuit, dramatically reshaped the state’s 2nd District, which Republicans had carefully gerrymandered to wrap around the city of Raleigh and avoid its many Democratic voters. The new district instead compactly embraces the city and, had it been in place at the time, would have given Hillary Clinton a dominant 60-36 win in 2016 (Trump carried the 2nd 53-44 under the old lines).
With that shift, the district became impossible for Holding to win. To put its lean in perspective, in the 2018 midterms, House Republicans failed to carry even a single district where Clinton took a majority of the vote, let alone 60%. Holding’s only alternative would have been to challenge a fellow Republican in a neighboring district in a primary, an option he eschewed. He has, however, held open the possibility of seeking a comeback in 2022, when North Carolina will again have a new congressional map (likely with one more seat due to reapportionment), and when Republican Sen. Richard Burr has said he’ll retire.
Holding’s fate should feel familiar to him, though. A one-time aide to the notorious Jesse Helms, Holding was named a U.S. attorney by George W. Bush in 2006 and, unusually, stayed on for two-and-a-half years into the Obama administration to conclude several corruption prosecutions.
After Republicans gained control of the state legislature in 2010, they shattered the existing 13th District, which had been represented by Democrat Brad Miller, transforming it from a seat that Democrats had won comfortably to one they could no longer compete in. Miller ultimately retired rather than follow through with an intra-party fight against a Democratic colleague, while Holding went on to defeat Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble 44-34 in the 2012 GOP primary and easily won that fall.
Ahead of the 2016 elections, a federal court struck down the map that had enabled Holding to first win office on the grounds that it had discriminated against black voters. However, the replacement districts maintained the GOP’s gerrymander, though it pushed Holding into a primary with Rep. Renee Ellmers.