Today and tomorrow I'm going to look at what could happen with Heath Shuler and Mike McIntyre's House seats if either of them runs for the Senate next year. Today I'm going to deal with Shuler's.
The 11th is a Republican district and was represented by one from 1990 to 2006. But it is not overwhelmingly so by any means. Last year John McCain won it 52-47.
The district's population center and Democratic core is in Buncombe County. When Shuler beat Charles Taylor in 2006 a third of the vote was cast there and it provided most of Shuler's margin of victory. He took the district by 17,000 votes and won the county by 14,000 votes.
Because Buncombe County has become more reliably Democratic in recent election cycles, I think the party is better off in an open seat situation with a candidate who is from one of the redder, more rural parts of the district.
Two proven vote getters in that realm are state senators John Snow and Joe Sam Queen. In the North Carolina version of the PVI that Civitas produces each of their districts are R+6. There are only two Democratic senators representing districts more Republican than those. There are eight counties in Snow's district, which is completely contained within the 11th Congressional District. Last year Barack Obama lost all but one of them and Snow won all of them. Queen's district is not completely within the 11th, but he won in all four of the counties that are. These guys have already shown a consistent ability to win in territory that is not too friendly for Democrats.
If either of these folks ran and could have as much success within their districts in a Congressional race as they have had in their Senate races, you combine that with a typical strong Democratic performance in Buncombe County and you have a formula for victory. Another important thing about each of them, which will be an issue tomorrow when we discuss McIntyre's district, is that both of them are still young enough to be serious candidates for a higher office.
Jordan Schrader last week mentioned Senator Tom Apodaca and former House member Charles Thomas as candidates the NRCC might be interested in. I think Thomas is the more interesting of those two candidates because he's from Buncombe County (his district flipped when he didn't run for reelection) and he earned a reputation during his term in the legislature as more of an environmentalist than many within the Democratic caucus. His potential to do unusually well for a Republican in Buncombe would make him an interesting candidate, but it also should be noted that the GOP primary electorate within this district is extremely right wing (as evidenced by its nomination of Carl Mumpower last year) and Thomas might not be ideologically pure enough to win in May. Apodada represents a very Republican district and hasn't faced a Democratic challenge since 2004 so I really don't know enough to assess his chances.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential contenders and I welcome ideas in the comments about other candidates. But in looking at the big picture around this district I think it's entirely plausible Democrats could keep it even without Shuler as long as they nominate someone who can appeal beyond just Asheville.