GOP proposed redistricting map would shake up congressional districts, switch Durham to NH02

Ben MacKillop

The GOP-controlled Committee on Redistricting for the State of New Hampshire released a proposed map early last week ahead of the first hearing on the redistricting process. The proposed map has major ramifications for the University of New Hampshire (UNH) students and community voters as it would shift Durham and some neighboring towns from New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district (NH01) to the 2nd district (NH02). These changes would give Republicans a firm advantage in NH01 going into the 2022 midterm elections while giving Democrats a stronghold in NH02. 

If this plan were enacted, Durham residents would be voting in the much less competitive NH02 race instead of the much more polarizing NH01. 

The proposed map would shift the heavily liberal-leaning towns of Durham, Dover, Portsmouth and Rochester to NH02 while incorporating the more conservative-leaning towns of Salem, Hudson, Windham, Atkinson and Pelham into NH01. NH01 has been a historically competitive district until the past three elections when Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and current Congressman Chris Pappas have combined for three consecutive Democrat wins all by comfortable margins. Despite this, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has won the district by double-digit margins in the past two elections, showing that the district has a heavy amount of ballot splitting between the local and national elections. Meanwhile, NH02 has been a comfortable district for Democrats since Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s first victory in 2013.  

The proposed redistricting would drastically change the dynamics of these two districts giving Republicans increased control over NH01 at the expense of votes in NH02. The seacoast towns being moved to NH02 have voted heavily Democrat for many recent elections, especially the college town of Durham where thousands of college students turn out  each election and vote profoundly for Democrats. Looking at the congressional election results from 2020 where Pappas defeated challenger Matt Mowers by a 5-point margin in NH01, the proposed changes would have swung the election to a one- to two-point victory for Mowers. In this scenario we would expect Congresswoman Annie Kuster, who won NH02 by a 10-point margin, to win even more comfortably by up to 16-17 points.  

As could be expected, this proposed redistricting map has caused controversy among New Hampshire state legislators. Republicans have justified the changes as part of a plan to rebalance the congressional districts following the 2020 census. In the new census, NH01 has roughly 17,945 more residents than NH02 and the GOP-proposed map would shrink this difference to less than 100. Democrats have charged that the Republican efforts are a clear-cut case of gerrymandering, a strategy where the redistricting process is taken advantage of in order to give the controlling party an electoral advantage, often resulting in nonsensical congressional maps. State Democrats have proposed their own map for redistricting which would only shift the town of Hampstead from NH01 to NH02. While Hampstead is a Republican favored town, the change would only result in a slight change in the balance giving Democrats a slight advantage in NH01 at the expense of NH02.  

Republican Gov. Sununu, who has recently announced he will forego a rumored Senate race against Democrat and former N.H. Gov. Maggie Hassan in 2022 to seek a fourth term as governor, has yet to  comment about the redistricting process. He has in the past expressed that he would veto any gerrymandered map.  

In addition to redistricting for the state’s two congressional districts, Republicans will also control the redistricting process for 24 State Senate districts and 400 State House seats. New Hampshire Republicans who won big in 2020 flipping both the State Senate and House, the only state in the country that switched party control in the 2020 elections, could also seek to better secure their advantage in the state ahead of a potential increase in support for Republicans generally in the 2022 elections. A recent ABC-News/Washington Post poll found a 51%-41% lead for Republicans in the generic congressional ballot. This polling was supplanted by Republicans’ recent big wins in Virginia accompanied by President Joe Biden’s falling approval rating which has reached new lows dipping below 40% approval in some recent polls. 

Ultimately, New Hampshire state Republicans and Gov. Sununu will get to make the final decision on redistricting with a final plan likely to make its way to the governor’s desk in early 2022.