In December, Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria announced that he would run for State House District 36, a seat currently occupied by Republican Nelson Dollar. But in light of a recent court decision that blocked new districts in Wake and Mecklenburg County, Calabria announced today that he has reconsidered.
“With the recent court rulings, it’s now clear that the legislature’s gerrymandering will prevent me from running in NC House District 36,” Calabria told the INDY in a text message. “They split my precinct, which is uncommon, drawing the line very near my house to make sure I couldn’t run against Representative Dollar.”
Another Democrat who had eyes on that seat, Jennifer Ferrell, may or may not be running. In an email, Ferrell told the INDY she is “not going to say either way right now publicly to press if I am going to move back in and run for NC36. I will just say that it’s ‘actively being worked on right now.’” She expects to make an announcement next week.
As of now, no Democrats are challenging Dollar in a suburban Wake seat that Democrats had been eyeing as key to overcoming the GOP supermajorities in the legislature. In 2016, Dollar defeated Ferrell by less than three percentage points; since then, however, the legislature has redrawn districts following a court ruling striking them down.
A federal court had implemented new, more Democratic-friendly districts drawn by a special master, Stanford professor Nathaniel Persily, but, responding to a Republican appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed that decision for Wake and Mecklenburg counties, meaning those districts reverted to their 2017 configurations.
As The News & Observer wrote last week:
The court decision injects new uncertainties into some candidates’ plans, even as the election season is set to formally begin Monday with the first day of candidate filing.
Two Wake County Democrats, Matt Calabria and Jen Ferrell, had announced they were running for state House against seven-term Republican Nelson Dollar of Cary. As a result of the court decision, neither Democrat lives in Dollar’s district. Calabria and Ferrell said the district that Republicans drew for Dollar and which the Supreme Court decision allows the state to use was meant to protect him from challengers.
Democrats trying to break the veto-proof GOP majority in the legislature set their sights on Dollar, who has been considered to be at risk in election after election. The outside expert’s district could have helped a Democrat on the November ballot. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper carried the district drawn by the outside expert by 7 points in 2016. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory carried the GOP-drawn district 50 percent to Cooper’s 48 percent.”
In other words, the special master’s district would have likely doomed Dollar; the GOP’s district, however, makes a race with a top-tier contender more of a tossup, especially in a year that’s supposed to be good for Democrats. But that only matters if the Democrats can, in fact, gin up a top-tier challenger.
In seeking reelection to the county commission, Calabria will be up against fellow Democrat Lindy Brown, who filed to run for the seat on Monday. In a statement, Brown says Calabria’s decision won’t affect her campaign. “I called Matt prior to me even considering to run,” she says. “During our conversation, he confirmed that he wasn’t running for re-election but for the General Assembly. We ended the conversation that we would support one another. … It is unfortunate that Matt and Jen Ferrell were drawn out the district. However, I must pursue my campaign and not disappoint my supporters and the citizens of Wake County, who have already invested and volunteered to work on my campaign.”
Here is Calabria’s press release announcing his decision.