CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republican Dan Bishop narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready to win a North Carolina battleground district on Tuesday, holding a traditionally Republican seat in a rare do-over election following a 2018 race marred by allegations of fraud.
The Associated Press called the race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District with Bishop leading McCready 50.6 percent to 48.8 percent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting.
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The two candidates were battling for a seat Republicans have held for decades but which has sat vacant since the 2018 midterm election result — an apparent 905-vote victory for Republican Mark Harris over McCready — was thrown out over credible evidence of election fraud committed by one of Harris’ campaign contractors. Harris declined to run in the new election ordered by the state elections board, and Bishop won the Republican nomination in a primary this spring.
The result offers something for both parties: The fact that the long-time GOP district was in play again is a sign the national environment has changed little since the midterms, when the GOP lost the House, as President Donald Trump runs for reelection.
But Bishop’s slender victory could also act as a salve and an emotional lift for the GOP. Had McCready won in a district Trump carried by 12 points in the 2016 election, it would have dealt a blow to the GOP’s hopes of winning back the House majority next year and likely led to more retirements among Republican incumbents.
The vote in North Carolina followed a reliable pattern of the Trump era: McCready cleaned up in the immediate suburbs of Charlotte, where the president has been unpopular, even improving on his 2018 margins in many precincts. But Bishop did even better in the rural and exurban stretches of the district, outmatching McCready’s base. That push-pull will be one of the main storylines of the 2020 presidential campaign, as Democrats try to wrest back states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where urban and suburban voters are sprinting in one direction and rural and exurban voters are pulling just as hard the other way.
The contest between Bishop and McCready attracted more than $10 million in outside spending, the second-most ever for a special election for the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee and Congressional Leadership Fund, the leading pro-GOP super PAC for House races, have combined to spend more than $5 million.
Democratic groups also engaged, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority Forward, a nonprofit group linked to Democratic leaders, each spending more than $1 million.
Before the polls even closed, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who traveled to North Carolina with Trump on Air Force One Monday night, warned against reading too much into the results of the race. “Special elections are just what they are: special,” McCarthy told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
McCready, a Marine veteran running in a district that hasn’t gone Democratic since the early 1960s, campaigned as a bipartisan figure who wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker.
He identified health care as his top issue, pledging to “fix” the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Asked earlier Tuesday about some of the health care proposals among Democrats’ 2020 presidential candidates, McCready called some of them “crazy” ideas.
“I think there’s a lot of crazy, aspirational stuff coming out of those presidential debates,” the Democrat said. All we got to do is stand up to the drug companies, stand up to the special interests. We got to fix Obamacare — we got to fix the problems in the system.”
But Bishop — who said he’d be a strong supporter of Trump and his agenda if elected —sought to link McCready to prominent Democratic liberals. He cited contributions McCready has received from billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose money McCready returned. (According to Federal Election Commission filings, Omar donated $2,000 to McCready on Nov. 6 of last year, and McCready refunded the donation on March 30 of this year.)
“That’s where his money’s coming from,” Bishop said Tuesday before the polls closed. “That doesn't happen if those people believe he's a force for moderation. So I suggest — have suggested — that it's kind of a scam. It's sort of a phony presentation and a way to flip a seat blue."