North Carolinians in two Congressional districts went to the polls Tuesday. In the 3rd district, Republican Greg Murphy beat Democrat Allen Thomas by a wide margin – nearly 25 percentage points. That's not a surprise in a district long represented by the late conservative Congressman Walter Jones. But the ninth district was a different story.
Republican Dan Bishop edged out Democrat Dan McCready by a narrow margin in North Carolina’s Congressional District 9 – which spreads along the bottom of the state – just east of Charlotte in Mecklenburg County to Bladen and Robeson Counties. It’s also the district that’s been without a Representative since the state Board of Elections threw out the 2018 results over questions of ballot tampering by a Republican campaign aide. The probe caused the 2018 winner – Republican Mark Harris – to vacate the seat.
RLH: NPR Political Reporter Jessica Taylor, why is the nation watching this race? Why are some people calling this a bellwether for the 2020 election?
JT: Well, this race, I think had, when you look at the district, it had sort of mix of where the battlegrounds of 2020 are really going to be fought – because you had the district that is rapidly growing in the suburban areas around Charlotte. But then you also had very important rural areas and those are areas where Trump did well. And so when you look at the results here – this is a district that when President Trump had carried by 12 points. Dan Bishop, the Republican, ended up winning it by two. So Republicans did eke a win, but there are warning signs for them in the suburbs there.
RLH: What are those warning signs?
JT: They had to spend six million dollars in outside money in order to save this district, essentially, and they’re not going to be able to spend that amount of money in other districts across the country. And this is a district that, on paper, shouldn’t even be competitive. Republicans have held it for more than half a century, and there are over thirty more districts that are more competitive than this in the House.
RLH: Besides District 9 being majority red and given the close margin last year between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, what made this election different – this year different?
JT: I think that he did nationalize this election in a way that did help him win. He ran close to Trump – and Trump coming there helped energize votes. When you look at the counties – where he came there in Fayetteville and Cumberland, he was able to energize turnout there and also Bishop won on Election Day voting, whereas McCready won the early vote.
And so I think that he was able to boost it enough and I think that, you know, party ID can still ring true. And again, this was such a Republican seat, too, that I think for Democrats it was just a very big uphill climb… I mean, for them to come even that close…
RLH: Why is North Carolina such an important state in 2020?
JT: At the presidential level, President Trump only won it by four points, a very important Senate race there with Thom Tillis that could be crucial in deciding Senate control, a Governor’s race as well, and so I think across the board it just shows that Republicans have real problems in the suburbs, but Democrats have got to find a way to reach rural voters as well.
RLH: NPR Political Reporter Jessica Taylor, thank you so much for being with us today.
JT: Thank you.