North Carolina Republicans just unveiled new gerrymanders that would not only entrench the party in power but would also reward a turncoat Democrat whose inexplicable party switch handed the GOP a veto-proof supermajority in April and ushered in a new era of ultraconservative governance.
As a result of that switch by state Rep. Tricia Cotham, Republicans were able to quickly pass a host of far-right priorities despite vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Those bills, among other things, severely restricted abortion access, curtailed voting rights, and gave the GOP greater control over both state courts and North Carolina’s elections.
Cotham’s decision to change parties came as a shock because she had campaigned as a mainstream, pro-abortion rights Democrat and won a safely blue district in the Charlotte area just last year. Local Democrats had no reason to expect anything else: Cotham had previously served as a reliable member of the state House caucus for several years until leaving for an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2016.
But just three months into her new term, Cotham claimed she was leaving the Democratic Party because of a progressive backlash when she missed a key vote that enabled Republicans to loosen gun safety regulations. She also said that Democratic lawmakers had repeatedly disrespected her, something Democrats have steadfastly disputed.
However, subsequent reporting cast significant doubt on Cotham’s justifications for her change. Republicans had encouraged her to run in the first place, according to The New York Times, and GOP-aligned interest groups supported her with substantial donations ahead of last year’s primary. The Assembly also reported that Cotham had a history of petty personal grievances with Democratic lawmakers rather than any sort of deep ideological differences.
Cotham’s move was still bewildering, though, because her current district supported Joe Biden by a 61-38 margin—inhospitable turf for any Republican, let alone a former Democrat who had enraged her onetime supporters. (Last year, Cotham herself easily defeated her GOP opponent 59-41 in the 112th District.)
Now, however, Cotham’s district would be radically reshaped (and renumbered as the 105th), so much so that it would instead have voted for Donald Trump 50-48—a 25-point shift in partisanship from its present incarnation. But should Cotham decide that this boon is an insufficient reward for enabling the GOP’s agenda (even her revamped district would remain competitive and, like so much suburban turf, it’s trending toward Democrats), she also has the option of once again running for Congress.
In addition to their new legislative maps, Republicans also released a pair of proposals that would gerrymander North Carolina’s congressional districts in extreme ways, so much so that this perennial swing state would likely wind up with a House delegation made up of 11 Republicans and just three Democrats.
Notably, though, both of those plans would also place Cotham’s base of suburban Mecklenburg County in a safely red open seat (numbered the 8th on one map and the 9th on the other). While Cotham fell far short in her previous House bid, finishing a distant third in the Democratic primary, with just 21% of the vote, her new allies might very well smooth her path to the GOP nomination.
Cotham has not yet indicated what she plans to do next year. However, her overnight transformation into a MAGA Republican has earned her a warm reception from GOP leadership and right-wing media for betraying her former party and the voters who elected her. Given the GOP’s warm embrace of opportunists—including Trump himself—Cotham may find herself richly rewarded indeed.