On September 10, North Carolina will hold two special elections for Congress. In NC-03, Republican state Representative Greg Murphy faces Democrat Allen Thomas to replace Walter Jones, Jr. who died earlier this year. In NC-09, Republican State Senator Dan Bishop faces Democrat Dan McCready to finally settle the 2018 race that was declared invalid because of rampant corruption. Here’s a brief look at the two contests.

North Carolina’s Third Congressional District is a sprawling district in the northeastern part of the state. Much of it uninhabitable because it’s either under water in the river or sounds or in swamps. It includes the Outer Banks and Camp Lejune.  

Walter Jones, Jr. held the district from 1994 until his death this year. His father held much of the same territory when he served as Congressman for the 1stCongressional District for about 25 years until his death in 1992. Jones, Jr. was Republican who left the Democratic Party after he lost a primary to succeed his father. As a Republican, he was constantly on the outs with the GOP leadership, but consistently won the district handily despite primary opposition in his last few elections.

The district today is 36% Democrat, 33% Republican and 31% unaffiliated. It’s 72% white, 23% black, 4% Hispanic, and 2% other. Donald Trump won the district by 24 points, 61% to 37%. The white unaffiliated voters and even white Democrats are conservative and most analysts call the district safe Republican.

However, if any Democrat can win the district, it’s probably Allen Thomas. He comes from a long line Southern Democrats. He’s a native of the district who grew up in Craven County where his father was as state Senator and his brother, who was also a state Senator, serves as District Attorney. Thomas was mayor of Greenville, the largest city in the district, though gerrymandering split it between the 1stand 3rdCongressional Districts. He left the position as mayor to become head of the Global Transpark in Kinston and was credited with making progress in turning the operation around. His ties to the district run deep and cross party lines. 

The 9thCongressional District became famous last year for the corruption that overturned the result. Republican Mark Harris appeared to beat Democrat Dan McCready by less than 1,000 votes, but extensive absentee ballot fraud nullified the result. In the re-do election, McCready now faces ultra-conservative State Senator Dan Bishop. 

The district runs from Charlotte to Bladen County, east of Fayetteville for about 120 miles along the South Carolina line. The partisan make up is 39% Democrat 32% Republican and 29% unaffiliated. It’s 65% white, 22% black, 4% Hispanic, and 9% other, most of whom are Lumbee Indians. Historically, the Lumbee have voted Democratic but in 2016, they appear to have sided with Donald Trump, who won the district 54-43. 

McCready brings the experience of having run in the district before. He’s a veteran and entrepreneur from Charlotte who is a good fit for much of the district. He’s a strong Christian in a district that has a strong evangelical presence. To win, he’ll need a strong turnout among African Americans and white liberals who live in Charlotte. He’ll also need to bring the Lumbee back into the Democratic fold and win the few swing voters left in the district. It’s all possible. 

Bishop is running a campaign targeting his base. He’s wrapped himself around Trump and was on stage with the president during the “Send Her Back” rally in Greenville. As sponsor of the infamous bathroom bill, HB2, he wears his anti-LGBT bias as a badge of honor. He’s also tolerant of the white nationalists and even financially support the white supremacist web site, Gab. All of those positions could be beneficial to help turn out his base in the rural parts of the district.

The special elections have flown a bit beneath radar throughout the summer, but attention should pick up as we move past Labor Day. Both districts should be Republican but both have strong Democratic candidates. If either go Democratic, or even stay within a handful of points, Republicans should worry about their chances in North Carolina in 2020. On the other hand, if they both go by the double digits like Trump, Republicans can take that as sign of strength heading into the presidential cycle. 

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