Dan Bishop may be the GOP’s canary in the coal mine. He’s running in a special election against Democrat Dan McCready in a race that he should win. Donald Trump won the 9th Congressional District by 12 points. Bishop has wrapped himself around the president and has built a campaign that brazenly appeals to the Republican base. In a low-turnout special election in a GOP-leaning district, that should get him across the line. 

However, a poll out late last week shows McCready with a narrow edge in the race. According the poll conducted for Inside Elections by a bipartisan polling group, McCready leads Bishop by four, 46-42. His margin rests in his whopping 69-27 lead in Mecklenburg County which makes up more than one-third of the voters in the district. Bishop leads in the rest of the counties, but his margin is much narrower.

The poll indicates Democrats are more enthusiastic than Republicans about voting and McCready leads by five among people who very motivated. The actual early vote totals show a similar pattern. According Michael Bitzer, as of Saturday, Democrats made up 41% of the early voters while the GOP made up 31%, a larger gap than in 2018. Enthusiasm drove Democrats’ wins last November and this race indicates that it’s not waning yet. 

Bishop has pursued an almost exclusively base strategy. He’s not reached out to Democrats or moderate independents. He believes that his victory hinges on a large turnout of Trump voters. We’ll find out if he’s right. The president is heading to the district on election eve to rally the troops. While Democrats tend to vote early, Republicans make up a larger percentage of voters on election day. 

Republicans have spent heavily to hold this seat. If they lose, it will send shock waves through the ranks. The eastern part of the district is the definition of Trump country. It’s an economically struggling region with a large population on non-college educated white voters. If they don’t show when Trump asks them to, then Republicans may find they can’t depend on their base in 2020. 

The election is one week from today. Both candidates should be nervous and the GOP in general should be retooling their Embrace Trump strategy. A win for McCready would send a signal that the bottom might falling out but even a close win should serve as a wakeup call about Trump’s ability to motivate his army. Right now, it looks like it will be decided by a very narrow margin. 

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