Republicans can rest a little easier. The Trump fire wall in rural North Carolina held last night. Republican Greg Murphy won handily over Democrat Allen Thomas in NC-03 and, more importantly, Dan Bishop defeated Dan McCready in NC-09. In more normal times, both outcomes would have been expected since both are heavily Republican districts.  

The fight in NC-09 had even the best prognosticators unsure of what would happen. Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016 and the Cook Political Index calls the race R+8, meaning that the district performs at 8% more Republican than the country as a whole. In a low turnout special election, where the base plays a much larger role, Republicans should have been confident in their ability to hold the seat. Instead, they spent millions to fend off McCready.

McCready seemed to have momentum and won the early vote by 9%. However, Republicans showed up on election day, when 55% of the came to the polls and Bishop beat McCready by 10% with those voters. Overall, Bishop’s win was 3%, a close call that should leave Republicans more uneasy once they get over the jubilation of winning. 

In the two big counties, Bishop performed the same as Mark Harris in Union but garnered a lower percentage of the vote in Mecklenburg. In the rural counties, Bishop outperformed Harris in Cumberland, Richmond and Robeson, but underperformed him in Bladen. Anson and Scotland behaved about the same. 

The election indicates that the electorate in 2020 will behave more like 2018 than 2016. While heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts might protect Republicans, they can’t count on Trump coattails in statewide contests or more competitive districts. Democrats are still motivated but the Trump base is sticking with its man. With the president on the ballot, Trump will motivate both his supporters and the opposition, erasing much benefit to the GOP down ballot.

As for the district, the results show that it’s still in play next year with the right Democrat. If McCready decides to call for a rematch, he starts basically even. Another moderate Democrat could also give Bishop a tough run, especially with the right candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket. Bishop’s re-election campaign starts this morning.

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