Republicans have narrowly held on to a North Carolina district that President Donald Trump won by 12 points in 2016. It’s a relief for a party already in the minority but not enough to ease GOP fears about slippage in the suburbs.
With 95 percent of precincts reporting, GOP state Sen. Dan Bishop led Democrat Dan McCready 51 percent to 49 percent when The Associated Press called the race.
This was technically the last election of 2018, when McCready appeared to fall short by just 905 votes in November’s midterms. But the State Board of Elections never certified that result because of allegations of election fraud tied to the 2018 GOP nominee Mark Harris. Bishop won a 10-way primary in May for this year’s redo election, which Harris opted to sit out.
McCready’s narrow loss is a blow to Democrats, who were hoping to increase their House majority and pick off a seat in a state that will be competitive up and down the ballot next year. But the closeness of this race is also a warning to Republicans, who poured more than $6 million in outside spending into a longtime red district that shouldn’t have been competitive.
GOP leadership was already trying to lower expectations for the race on Election Day. “The Bishop district is a very tough swing district,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters. The 9th District hasn’t elected a Democrat to the House since the 1960s.
Having run for two years, McCready started this race with a financial and name recognition advantage that Republican outside groups tried to counter.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the Club for Growth all went after McCready’s business dealings, accusing him of of enriching himself at taxpayers’ expense through his solar energy business. That message was backed by more money than Bishop’s paid advertising, which got more national attention for tying McCready to socialism and “the squad,” a group of minority Democratic freshmen.
Bishop ran close to Trump, who rallied with him in the district Monday night. His closing ad featured footage of the president at an earlier rally in North Carolina in a direct appeal to conservative rural voters whose support he needed to overcome Trump’s waning popularity in suburban Mecklenburg County.
McCready ran as a moderate Democrat, opposed to “Medicare for All,” impeaching Trump and an assault weapons ban. As Democrats did in 2018, he largely stuck to health care. In order to win such a conservative district, McCready needed to outperform his Mecklenburg County margin from 2018 and motivate minority voters in the rural eastern part of the district to vote.
National Democrats invested in on-the-ground engagement with minority voters, testing a strategy they’re hoping to use in other rural areas around the country.
But McCready underperformed his 2018 margins in some of those rural areas. He won four of the same counties he did in 2018, but was trailing in two counties he won last year, including Cumberland County, where Trump held his rally Monday night.
Trump tried to take credit for Bishop's victory in a tweet Tuesday night, saying Bishop asked for help and “we changed his strategy together.”
Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night. Now it looks like he is going to win. @CNN & @MSNBC are moving their big studio equipment and talent out. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 11, 2019
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