Retiring US Rep. Butterfield backs Davis as his successor

State Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, takes the oath of office in the Senate chamber as lawmakers gather for the start of the 2017 Legislative session at the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Jan. 11, 2017. U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has endorsed state Sen. Davis to become his successor in North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. The retiring congressman gave Davis on Monday, April 25, 2022 his seal of approval as the May 17 Democratic primary approaches. Three other Democrats are running for the nomination, including former state Sen. Erica Smith. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH — U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield endorsed Don Davis on Monday to become his successor, giving the current state senator his seal of approval as next month’s Democratic primary for a northeastern North Carolina district approaches. 

Butterfield, a former state Supreme Court justice who has held the 1st Congressional District seat since 2004, announced in November that he would not seek reelection. 

A dozen people, including four Democrats, have filed candidacy papers for the seat. Davis is a former Snow Hill mayor and ex-Air Force officer who first joined the state Senate in 2009. 

“Having served in Congress for 18 years, I know what the people of the 1st District expect from their representative,” Butterfield said in a news release from Davis’ campaign. “Don has the legislative experience and is prepared to fight for the Democratic agenda of empowering America’s families and communities.” 

The May 17 Democratic primary has largely been a competition between Davis and former state Sen. Erica Smith of Northampton County, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate Democratic nomination in 2020. She also ran for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Richard Burr last year until switching to a House campaign in November. 

Smith has portrayed herself as aligned with the Democratic Party’s liberal wing — in part by highlighting a recent endorsement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Davis’ politics have been considered more moderate, particularly in supporting at times state budgets and other legislation approved by the Republican-controlled state Senate. 

Smith put out a news release Monday congratulating Davis on the endorsement but added: “We have elections, not coronations, for a reason.” Smith promoted her other endorsements, including from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. 

Davis “is out of touch with the Democratic Party and has a record that ought to be entirely disqualifying,” Smith campaign manager Morris Katz said in her release. 

In an endorsement announcement separate from Davis’ news release, Butterfield cited Davis’ other endorsements and his record of service. 

“He believes in getting legislation passed to uplift families and communities that have been left behind,” Butterfield wrote. “He knows when to fight and when to compromise.” 

Jason Spriggs and Julian Bishop Sr. also are seeking the May 17 Democratic nomination. 

The district covers most of Pitt County — the most populous county in the district — and all of 18 other counties. It’s considered a Democratic-leaning area, according to results of statewide elections in 2016 and 2020. Butterfield said the 1st District is now essentially a toss-up district. Several counties in the district have black majority populations. Butterfield and all of the Democratic candidates are black. 

Butterfield previously chaired the Congressional Black Caucus while on Capitol Hill. He often won his congressional reelection bids by comfortable margins, although in 2020, he defeated Republican nominee Sandy Smith by less than 9 percentage points. Smith is running in the GOP primary this year, too. 

Butterfield said the goal is to “produce the strongest Democratic candidate who can defeat the well-funded, right-wing, Trump aligned Republican nominee.” 

Butterfield is one of about 30 House Democrats who are not seeking reelection this year, including North Carolina Rep. David Price. Republicans are aiming to retake control of the chamber for the first time since 2018.