‘Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can’t Win.’ The N.C. Woman Running a Losing Campaign Against Republican Gerrymandering

“District 37 is so gerrymandered that I don’t stand a chance,” said Senate candidate Kate Compton Barr. “But we deserve to have two names on the ballot.​”

Kate Compton Barr with her children Max (left), 6, and Winnie, 8. (Jenny Warburg)

Kate Compton Barr is a behavioral scientist, entrepreneur and mother of two. She’s also running her first race for office: a seat in the North Carolina state Senate. Shockingly, though, her campaign slogan is “Clear eyes. Full heart. Can’t win.”

Ms. talked to Barr about what purpose her campaign serves, if not to be elected. 

Camille Hahn: Tell me about your campaign. What makes you so certain that you can’t win? 

Kate Compton Barr: Well, primarily because our Republican legislature drew the map to ensure that I could not. Our entire state has been badly gerrymandered. In [2023], the state Supreme Court [which had recently become majority-Republican] overturned a decision from our prior state Supreme Court and declared that partisan gerrymandering was legal. And the Republicans ran with that.

So in my district, I am projected to lose by 34 points. Even a blue tsunami would still result in me losing by 20 points. 

Competition is good for democracy. Our representatives need to come home and tell us why they deserve to keep their jobs.

Kate Compton Barr
Kate Compton Barr’s campaign team. (Jenny Warburg)

Hahn: So why even run?

Compton Barr: Because I want to call attention to how ridiculous gerrymandered maps are and to all the problems that come along with them. Because of gerrymandering our representatives are accountable to their party, not to their voters, which is not what a representative democracy is meant to be. We see that impacting everything that happens in our state.

Only about a third of North Carolina’s population was in support of overturning Roe, yet our Republican supermajority voted to implement an abortion ban. As voters, we have very little recourse to hold them accountable for that because of these gerrymandered districts. Many of those Republicans actually ran on a promise that they would not touch abortion rights, and then immediately got into office and clearly lied to us. Yet the districts have been drawn so that they will not feel the impact of those lies. That’s not okay. 

We have to run against them even when we have no chance of winning. Frankly, gerrymandering is wrong, no matter which party is doing it. Competition is good for democracy. Our representatives need to come home and tell us why they deserve to keep their jobs. And if there is no one running against them, they essentially are just gifted a seat—they are gifted power.

So even though I’m going to lose, at least this way the Republican incumbent has to come back and make the case for why people should vote for her. She has some modicum of accountability to the voters, and she’s not just guaranteed her seat.

Hahn: You mention abortion rights, which are obviously of huge concern to the readers of Ms.

Compton Barr: In this state, you know, the majority of us support well-funded, robust public education systems; commonsense gun laws; expanded background checks. We are a purple state, and there are a lot of things that voters agree about. Yet our representatives don’t take action on them because they aren’t accountable to us. They have to answer, frankly, to Donald Trump.

It’s so disheartening to live in a state with so many amazing, wonderful people who have so much commonality, and then to see our government be the antithesis of who we are. I could cry about it, because it’s so frustrating. I think that frustration is turning people off of politics and off of voting. It’s understandable to feel that your vote doesn’t count, because it can feel like it doesn’t in a gerrymandered map. 

While I am frankly furious, I also want to make sure that this is a campaign where people feel like they can participate, where they don’t have to face every nasty thing that is happening in the political world. And we can have a little fun and we can develop some community and come together in an incredibly red district.

Hahn: I read that your opponent said she appreciates your sense of humor. It sounds a little patronizing when your campaign is a serious rebuke of her basically choosing her own voters. How do you take her comment?

Compton Barr: I’m glad she thinks I’m funny. She’s in this position where she doesn’t have to care about me. And so, yes, she can make patronizing comments. She has said so many things that are frankly not funny. One of the things that she suggested is that the way to prevent abortions is for women to close their legs. I wish that she was joking about that. 

Hahn: Do you have any hope that the situation in North Carolina will improve?

Compton Barr: I do. It will not be this year. There are three lawsuits focused on racial gerrymandering in the eastern part of our state right now. It’s a pretty narrow gap that they have to get through in order to be successful. But those possibilities for change exist in 2026. 

And then we get new maps in 2030. So that means we have six years to draw so much attention to this practice that even our Republican leadership can’t be quite so blatant the next go-round. We also have the chance to really knock their socks off and scare the pants off of them by showing up and rebuking them for these practices. So every vote that I get that I was not supposed to get is a vote that says “You can’t do this anymore.” I’m hoping that folks see this particular election as an opportunity to say, “We’ve had enough.” 

We have six years to either elect people who promise not to gerrymander our maps, or to flip our House and our Senate in such a way that we can gain enough power back to prevent this. 

We are a purple state, and there are a lot of things that voters agree about. Yet our representatives don’t take action on them because they aren’t accountable to us. They have to answer, frankly, to Donald Trump.

Kate Compton Barr

Hahn: What are your plans after November? Will you run for office again?

Compton Barr: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. To be honest with you, I’ve been having a blast doing this—in part because I’m so obviously going to lose that I can kind of do it the way that I want to. And it’s been really fun to just connect with people and get out in the world and have a good time, while also feeling like I am in a position to make a tiny bit of a difference. So in that sense, it’s appealing to run again. I don’t know how many losing campaigns I can run before I become the joke completely. 

I do know that it feels better to do something than to sit on the sidelines. So whatever comes in December, I will be doing something to try to improve what’s happening in the state. I just don’t know exactly what it’ll be. 

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Ms. magazine. Join the Ms. community today and you’ll get the Winter issue delivered straight to your mailbox.

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Camille Hahn is the managing editor at Ms. In her 15-plus years with the magazine, she has served as research editor, associate editor, features editor, copyeditor and proofreader. Previously, she worked as an associate editor at Bon Appétit. She lives in Davis, Calif.