North Carolina’s special election tomorrow determines the final Congressional contest of 2019. One thing is certain: The next Congressman from the 9th District will hail from Charlotte. Both Republican Dan Bishop and Democrat Dan McCready live in Mecklenburg County which makes up about 30% of the district’s population.
If McCready defeats Bishop, it will probably be because of his margin in Mecklenburg County. Not long ago, that same county would have virtually assured a GOP victory. Charlotte was once a bastion of moderate, business-friendly Republicans. They dominated the politics there from the 1980s until just a decade ago.
Charlotte was represented in Congress by Republicans like Alex McMillan and Sue Myrick. Mecklenburg gave us Jim Martin, another Congressman who became the first and only two-term Republican governor of North Carolina. Richard Vinroot served as the moderate mayor of Charlotte as it was emerging as a major US banking center and was the GOP nominee for governor in 2000. Even Governor Pat McCrory was initially seen as a moderate Republican, more interested in protecting businesses than delving into divisive social issues.
But Charlotte changed. It’s now a Democratic stronghold with a Democratic mayor and city council. Dan Bishop, McCready’s opponent is the last Republican representing any part of Mecklenburg County in the state senate. McCrory’s tenure as mayor ended a decade ago and no Republican has served in that capacity since.
The electorate in Charlotte didn’t change as much as the Republican Party did. Southeast Charlotte, the part of city in the district, is still a button-down business community filled with bankers, lawyers, doctors and insurance executives. They’re fiscal conservatives who want low taxes, small government and limited regulation, but most have little use for the intolerant social constructs of the modern GOP or the cartoonish bellicosity of Trump and his loyalists.
We can watch the transformation of the GOP in Mecklenburg through the tenures of Governor Pat McCrory and Senator Thom Tillis. McCrory went to Raleigh as a country club Republican in the tradition of Vinroot and Martin and left office most known for signing and defending HB2, the infamous bathroom bill. Tillis, who went to the Senate halfway through McCrory’s term, got elected as a moderate and started his tenure that way. He was a mild critic of Trump early in his presidency urging caution on trade deals and executive overreach. Today, he’s one of the president’s biggest cheerleaders, abandoning any principles he might have had and exposing himself as little more than a political opportunist.
By 2018, instead of nominating moderate Republicans who need to sell their political souls to stay in the party, Charlotte Republicans helped nominate evangelical preacher Mark Harris who defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 9th District GOP primary. Harris got caught up in the election fraud scandal that’s resulted in the special election and he’s been replaced on the ballot by Bishop, the author of HB2 and a financial supporter of the white supremacist website, Gab. Charlotte Republicans have come a long way from days of Richard Vinroot and Jim Martin.
In many ways, Dan McCready looks a lot more like Vinroot and Martin than Bishop does. If he wins tomorrow night, his victory will be the continuation of the shift of Charlotte business conservatives away from the GOP. It will be a signal than the suburbs aren’t just in play. They lean Democratic.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >