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Dean of N.C. congressional delegation announces pending retirement

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 12:27 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - North Carolina’s longest-tenured D.C. lawmaker will call it quits after 2022.

Shortly after noon Thursday, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) released this video explaining his decision not to seek re-election. Butterfield has served in the U.S. House since 2004.

New proposed district boundaries drawn by leaders in North Carolina’s Republican controlled state house would have made winning re-election tougher for Butterfield in 2022. In his comments, Butterfield called the map “partisan”, and “racially gerrymandered.”

Butterfield said he’s confident the map will be overturned. Nonetheless, he said he made the difficult decision to retire and, “allow the torch to be passed to someone who shares the value of the district.”

Political experts say Democrats face long odds of maintaining their narrow control of the U.S. House given midterm elections, like those coming in 2022, favor the party that does not hold the White House. Butterfield.

News of Butterfield’s decision is reverberating not just through Eastern North Carolina but the nation’s capital as well. In a statement, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) wrote:

“Representative G.K. Butterfield has been a key member of the North Carolina delegation and he will be missed. It has been an honor working alongside him to secure key wins for HBCUs, infrastructure projects, and economic development for eastern North Carolina. I look forward to continuing our work this Congress to finally grant full federal recognition to the Lumbee Indian Tribe. Susan and I wish him the best in his retirement and appreciate his work for North Carolinians.”

Butterfield is an influential voice in Washington, as a key member of the House Energy and Commerce committee as well as a leader both of the Democratic party and within the Congressional Black Caucus.

But, the greatest impact of Butterfield’s choice will likely be felt on the campaign trail next year. With his announcement, 15 House Democrats and 11 Republicans will either be retiring or seeking a different office next year.

Democrats can’t afford to lose more than a handful of seats if they hope to hang onto control, and historically midterms are a rough ride for the party in power. Election analysts say it’s hard to imagine a new Democratic candidate who could match Butterfield’s chances of holding onto the seat.

“A district that was solidly Democratic is now marginally Democratic,” said Georgetown University Political Science Professor Mark Rom, “the winds are blowing against the Democrats.”

“Congressman Butterfield, he would be favored to win,” Rom added before taking a long pause, “probably, but only slightly.”

Rom said there’s a silver lining for Democrats though. By making his intentions known now, Butterfield has given his party time to find a successor. “A strong Democratic candidate may arise, one has not risen yet, but if one’s going to come up, they need to act sooner rather than later,” said Rom, “the people running in 2022, they are already raising money, putting campaign staff together, thinking about their prospects, so this will happen pretty quickly in North Carolina in the coming months.”

Rom said Republican Sandy Smith was well funded and ran better than one might expect in 2020, potentially making her the party’s choice to try to flip the seat.

Leaders of national Democratic election efforts paid tribute to Butterfield Thursday, praising his long history of service and work on civil rights, health care, education, and assisting veterans. As for the future of his seat, a spokesperson for the Democratic Campaign Committee said the party’s record will serve it well.

Spokespeople for the National Republican Congressional Committee sent a far different message, a retirement care package, following up a declaration that Butterfield had the choice between losing or stepping aside.

Gray T.V.’s D.C. Bureau has requested an interview with Rep. Butterfield but he has not made time to sit down with us yet.

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