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What the results of N.C. special election say about 2020

The 2018 congressional result in North Carolina’s 9th District was thrown out because of GOP fraud, prompting a special election just held on Tuesday with a narrow victory by Republican Dan Bishop. The campaign was seen by both parties as a potential signal about voters’ mindsets ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Judy Woodruff talks to Steve Harrison, a political reporter for WFAE radio.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nearly a year after the midterm elections and a result that was thrown out because of evidence of Republican fraud, North Carolina's Ninth District finally has a congressman-elect.

    Republican Dan Bishop won yesterday's special election by less than two points and fewer than 4,000 votes in a district President Trump won by nearly 12 points in 2016.

    The campaign was seen by both parties as potentially a first signal about voters' thoughts ahead of the 2020 presidential race and the Republican Party's strength with suburban voters.

    Steve Harrison is a political reporter for public radio station WFAE in Charlotte, and he has been tracking the race.

    Steve Harrison, thank you very much for joining us on the "NewsHour."

    What has been reactions across the state to Dan Bishop's win?

  • Steve Harrison:

    So, I think that people were a little surprised, not so much that Dan Bishop won, but that he won by 2 percentage points.

    Now, that doesn't sound like a lot, but in the previous race last fall, the Republican candidate was ahead by 905 votes. So, this was a little bit bigger margin.

    I think one of the early reads on it on for Republicans is that President Trump came on Monday night and held a rally for Bishop in Fayetteville, which is at the far eastern end of the district, and, apparently, that worked.

    Cumberland County is the home of Fayetteville. Dan McCready, the Democrat, won that last fall. And this time, Dan Bishop took Cumberland County. So, you know, this was a win for the president. He had — as he was leaving to come down to North Carolina, he was kind of downplaying his involvement in the race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Steve Harrison:

    But then, you know, after Dan Bishop won, he started taking a lot of credit for the win.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And which he has done.

    This is an interesting district. It sprawls all the way from Charlotte toward the western end of the state, all the way to Fayetteville in the east. It's urban, it's suburban, it's rural.

    What do you see in the results about who voted for whom that tells you why Bishop won and why, frankly, McCready came so close?

  • Steve Harrison:

    So, the district is a gerrymandered district. The Republicans drew it to be a safe seat.

    And, really, the heart of the district is a part of Charlotte that is very wealthy, white, college-educated, and has voted for Republicans in big margins for decades.

    That part of Charlotte, combined with Union County, a suburban county, has about 60 percent of the vote. It's designed to really carry the district for Republicans.

    But what's happened is that that part of Charlotte has really flipped. Dan McCready won it last fall. He expanded on that margin this time. And that part of Charlotte is going more blue.

    But, at the same time, Dan Bishop was able to make inroads in the more rural parts of the district, working-class voters. It was a little bit of a replay of 2016.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're saying and you're pointing out and reminding us that McCready, the Democrat, did better than he did last fall.

    What are Republicans taking away from this? Are they telling you, are you sensing there's more nervousness about how — what President Trump can expect in North Carolina next year?

  • Steve Harrison:

    So, I spoke with Bishop's campaign strategist today, and his view was, look, we may be losing college-educated voters in Charlotte, but he said, if we can make that up by getting working-class voters in rural counties, that's OK. That's still a winning coalition.

    He felt like they were in good shape for statewide races and going into 2020.

    On the Democratic side, like you said earlier, President Trump won this district by 12 percentage points. For the Democrat to get within two points is a pretty big shift. And if the Democrats can perform like that again in 2020, they have a really good chance of winning North Carolina.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, at this point, just very quickly on this, Steve Harrison, any sense of which party is better organized going into the presidential election?

  • Steve Harrison:

    I think that North Carolina will again be a highly contested swing state.

    Of course, the Republican National Convention will be in Charlotte next year. That's going to bring a lot of attention here. But I think that both sides, as they have for the last two elections, are going to be spending millions of dollars and lots of time in North Carolina.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, I want to ask you about what happened in your state capital, Raleigh, today. In a surprise move, the Republicans called a vote which, in essence, overturned the Democratic governor's veto of a budget.

    I think this is a reminder — we think the country is dividing from looking at politics in Washington. It's a reminder it's very divided at the state level.

  • Steve Harrison:

    Right.

    What happened in Raleigh today kind of takes — takes it to a whole other level. What happened was, the Democratic governor of North Carolina had vetoed the Republican budget. The legislature doesn't have enough votes to override the budget.

    The Democrats have been — it's been two months now with this impasse over what's going to happen with the budget. The Democrats this morning were under the impression there would be no vote on the budget. They say that the Republican leadership had told them that. The Republicans say no such thing.

    And this morning, they had a quorum, and with hardly any Democrats in the chamber, they passed an override. And Democrats were livid.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sounds like not a lot of love lost at this point, but, again, a reminder of just how deep the partisan divide, even at the state and local level.

    Thank you very much, Steve Harrison, with WFAE. We appreciate it.

  • Steve Harrison:

    Thank you.

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