It’s Election Day in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District and one thing is certain: the fact a Congressional district President Trump carried by 11.9 points is a tossup on election day is a bad sign for Republicans in 2020.
Here’s what people across the country are reading as voters in North Carolina go to the polls:
Republican leadership lowered expectations for the outcome in Tuesday’s North Carolina’s 9th District special election, calling it a “swing district.”
President Donald Trump carried this district by 12 points in 2016, but Republican outside groups have spent more than $6 million on the race, which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Toss-up.
“You know, the Bishop district is a very tough swing district,” GOP Whip Steve Scalise told reporters Tuesday.
“You look at the Karen Handel race, two years ago, the most expensive race in the history of Congress,” Scalise said, referring to the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th District. “And that wasn’t an indicator of anything. It was good to win the race, but we don’t have the seat anymore.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW … TONIGHT, Republican Dan Bishop and Democrat Dan McCready will finally face off in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Nearly $20 million has been spent on this race — McCready has spent $4.7 million, Bishop has spent $1.7 million, and the NRCC and CLF have spent a combined $5.4 million. All the groups involved in this race say the same thing: Internal polling has the two candidates within a few points of each other — all within the margin of error.
AS YOU KNOW BY NOW, this district went for President DONALD TRUMP by a dozen points. Democrats don’t have much business holding this seat.
— From Old North State Politics: “The last time a Democrat held the seat was up to 1962, when Hugh Quincy Alexander lost his re-election bid to Republican Jim Broyhill in that year’s mid-term; Republicans have held the different configurations of this district since 1963.” Old North State Politics’ post
WHATEVER HAPPENS TONIGHT, whoever wins this race, there’s going to be a LOT of spin. So we wanted to decode what you’ll hear tomorrow, today:
— IF BISHOP WINS: Republicans are going to gloat that they were able to beat a candidate — McCready, the Democrat — who was running for Congress for more than two years and who spent $4 million. They can say that Trump districts aren’t, in fact, crumbling, like Democrats say they are. Of course, this is true, but not the whole story. The Republican congressional coalition was once built off seats like this — suburbs and exurbs — and if Democrats keep it close, it could highlight some of the GOP’s enduring problem in traditional strongholds. THE GOOD FOR THE GOP: If Bishop wins, it would show that the NRCC and CLF — who were almost sworn enemies last cycle — have learned to take cues from one another and win races. (McCready was once beating Bishop by a sizable margin.)
— IF MCCREADY WINS: If Democrats win a seat that TRUMP won by a dozen points just three years ago, Republicans could be in trouble, and no amount of spin will be able to cover that up. This isn’t a modestly red seat; it’s a solidly red seat. Combine an embarrassing loss with countless Republicans jumping ship for retirement, and that’s a troubling picture for the House GOP in 2020. Republicans are already complaining about Bishop — they say he was a bad candidate with the baggage of the notorious bathroom bill in the North Carolina legislature.
“On paper, this should be an easy victory for Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop. A Democrat hasn’t held the 9th District since the early 1960s. President Donald Trump carried it by 12 points in 2016. Bishop is a totally credible nominee with no disqualifying issues. And yet, the race between Bishop and Dan McCready, the Democrat who lost the deeply controversial 2018 race in the seat, is, by all accounts, very close — with both national parties spending heavily — upwards of $10 million total — to get their preferred candidate across the line. That closeness explains why Trump himself traveled to the district on Monday night, imploring voters to ‘send a clear message to the America-hating left’ by electing Bishop.”
But if Bishop loses, look out. What has been a low-lying dread creeping through the House Republican conference — typified by the dozen GOP members who are retiring with no other future political plans in place — will transform, quickly, into total panic. Why? Because as I noted, this is a solidly Republican district. In fact, according to figures from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, there are 34 districts currently held by Republican members of Congress that Trump carried by less than he did North Carolina’s 9th.
A loss in North Carolina on Tuesday night would almost certainly be a final straw for some House Republicans wavering about whether or not to run again in 2020. Confronted with the very real possibility that they could lose their seats in an environment in which Trump’s unpredictability is driving voters away from the party more broadly, retiring on their own terms might suddenly look much more appealing. Already the retirements within their ranks have made House Republicans’ push to retake the majority in 2020 more difficult. A Bishop loss — and the potential panic that would cause among GOPers in Congress — could end or, at the very least, badly curtail Republican hopes before we even get to 2020.”
“A Democratic victory in the contest would not only be a major upset for Republicans in a district long considered out of reach for Democrats, but it could also potentially stifle the GOP’s hopes of reclaiming a House majority in 2020. For the GOP, the costly, competitive race is seen by some as a must-win after the resounding rebuke of their agenda and Democrats’ 40-seat gain in 2018.
“A Republican loss ‘reinforces the dynamics coming out of the 2018 election that Republicans are increasingly struggling in urban and suburban districts,’ Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told ABC News last month. ‘It’s a message that … districts that have traditionally been theirs, and they still should have the advantage in, are still breaking against them, and similar districts going into 2020 are at severe risk.’ ”
“In a repeat of the midterm playbook, McCready avoided over-criticizing the president and carefully distanced himself from the leftward shift of the national Democratic Party—even as, in recent days, its high-profile presidential candidates swarmed his district.
It also provided an indication that the pragmatic messaging that carried Democrats to the majority still resonates in a cycle when Trump will, eventually, be on the ballot. Operatives in both parties say the Republican lean of the district could still propel the GOP nominee, state Sen. Dan Bishop to victory. But to the chagrin of some Republicans, the environment appears to mirror that of 2018, based on several metrics.”
“Republicans are scrambling to avoid what would be a devastating loss in the special House election in North Carolina’s 9th District.
Democrats, meanwhile, have deployed a divergent strategy in the district, which stretches from the Charlotte suburbs to Fayetteville in the east. McCready has sought to keep his distance from partisan rancor in Washington and cast himself as a compromise-minded moderate.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has taken what officials say is a ‘behind-the-scenes and below-the-radar’ approach to the 9th District election. The committee opted early on to invest heavily in voter contact and turnout operations, and only recently began spending money on advertising. ‘A piece of our strategy has been to not throw a ton of money on TV until the end, but to spend on the edges to avoid nationalizing the race, one DCCC official said, adding that the committee wanted to avoid a high-profile showdown like the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th District that set records for outside spending in” a House race.’ ”
“National Democrats have deliberately remained quiet about their support for Mr. McCready and dumped substantial money into advertising only in the final phase of the race, including a television spot that portrays a mask-wearing Mr. Bishop as ‘a hero for the big drug companies.’ It spotlights Mr. Bishop’s record in the State Legislature, where he opposed expanding Medicaid and was the sole vote against a measure allowing pharmacists to inform people of lower-priced alternatives for their prescription drugs.”
“McCready and Democrats say they have sought to make the special election about kitchen-table issues – health care and drug prices – hoping to recreate the campaigns that helped Democrats capture a majority in the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Republicans, meanwhile, have worked to tie Bishop to Trump in an effort to turn out the president’s conservative base. The two strategies couldn’t be more different; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has tried to avoid nationalizing the special election, playing a behind-the-scenes role for most of the race. Republicans, on the other hand, have homed in on national issues like Trump’s proposed border wall.”
“The stakes for the race go beyond a single congressional seat. For one, it will measure whether the ‘blue wave’ that swept House Democrats into the majority last year continues to roll and whether Republicans have been able to recover support in suburban precincts such as the subdivisions of south Charlotte and neighboring Union County where much of the district’s votes are likely to be cast. In Washington, GOP officials quietly fear that a Bishop loss could turn a steady stream of House retirements — 16 so far — into a torrent that could make retaking the chamber next year a near-impossible task.”