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In the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains, protests and rallies erupt in this city’s downtown square on any given night. Aging hippies and veterans gather at the foot of a granite obelisk known as the monument to tolerance and wave cardboard signs asking motorists to honk against drone warfare and in support of universal health care.
Several Asheville preachers openly advocate for gay marriage, a rarity in the South; it is enough to move one GOP state lawmaker to label the entire community a “cesspool of sin.”
Asheville has long carried the distinction of being an island of Democratic blue in a sea of Republican red. For six years, the largest city in western North Carolina was represented in the US House by a moderate Democrat who embodied the party’s playbook for the conservative region: a former NFL quarterback named Heath Shuler.
But Shuler decided against seeking reelection last year after the playing field shifted beneath him.
A state Legislature controlled by Republicans redrew his district — splitting liberal Asheville in two and diluting the city’s voting power. Shuler stood little chance of winning another term under the redrawn map.
With his decision to retire, another moderate had been purged from the ranks of Congress. Shuler’s successor is a freshman Tea Party Republican who, during a campaign rally last summer, advocated sending President Obama “home to Kenya or wherever it is.”
Redrawing congressional districts bore fruit for Republicans in other regions of North Carolina, as well as across the rest of the country. It was part of a concerted nationwide strategy engineered by GOP leaders in Washington that has had a profound impact, securing Republican House victories and rolling back Democratic inroads in red states, while increasing polarization and gridlock inside the beltway.