North Carolina Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose Durham-area district will become considerably more competitive under a new congressional map unless a court blocks it, has decided to retire rather than run for reelection in 2022, according to multiple media reports.
Butterfield's office declined to comment.
Butterfield, the senior chief deputy whip of the Democratic caucus and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, joins more than a dozen Democratic House members who have decided in recent months to retire or seek a different office as the party faces a grim forecast for the midterm elections.
His decision was first reported on Twitter by a reporter covering the North Carolina delegation in Washington for Spectrum News. Reporters for other outlets, including North Carolina Public Radio and an ABC affiliate, later confirmed the report.
Republicans need a net gain of five seats to flip the House and Democrats are entering the midterms with disadvantages, including the tendency for voters to reject the party in control of the White House during a midterm election and a redistricting cycle which favors Republicans.
Party operatives were gloating about their prospects.
“Democrats have two choices: retire or lose,” said Michael McAdams, communications director of the National Republican Campaign Committee. “The smart ones are retiring.”
In earlier elections, Butterfield's majority-Black 1st District was the most Democratic in the state, with two-thirds of its voters registered as Democrats. Before last year, he had won every election by double digits since he was first elected, in a 2004 special election.
The state redrew its district lines before the 2020 elections after a court ruled Republicans in the state legislature had gerrymandered the previous map. In November, Butterfield beat Republican Sandy Smith by just 8 points, the same margin by which President Joe Biden carried the district.
The map adopted earlier this month by the GOP-controlled legislature virtually erased the Democrats’ partisan advantage, taking it to a single percentage point in what would become the 2nd District according to an analysis by fivehthirtyeight.com.
Democrat Kathy Manning’s district, which would become the 11th, was also reconfigured to become a Republican bastion, rather than solidify Democratic. The NAACP has sued to challenge the new map.
Butterfield, 74, is one of just five people of color to represent North Carolina in Congress since reconstruction, WUNC reported. He is a veteran progressive and serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Butterfield, who is serving his ninth full term, had $725,000 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30.
Former state Sen. Erica Smith, who is currently running for the Democratic nomination for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, is considering running for Butterfield's House seat, her campaign confirmed to CQ Roll Call. Smith, a staunch progressive, lost the Democratic Senate primary in 2020 to Cal Cunningham, who had the national party's support.
North Carolina candidates have to file by Dec. 17 to run in the March 8 primary.