The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina special election poses test for GOP ahead of 2020

The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina special election poses test for GOP ahead of 2020

Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, your weekly rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races. Did someone forward this to you? Click here to subscribe.

We’re Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley. Here’s what we’re watching this week on the campaign trail. 




As Hurricane Dorian bears down on the North Carolina coast, there’s a political storm brewing inland. 

The special election to represent the state’s 9th Congressional District, set for Tuesday, is the culmination of months of controversy and political fighting. The district has been held by Republicans for nearly 60 years and President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE won it by nearly 12 points in 2016. But Democrats came within striking distance of capturing the district last year, with the party’s candidate, Dan McCready, trailing Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE by only 905 votes.

Allegations of ballot fraud by a contractor for Harris’s campaign and an ensuing investigation by state election officials voided the results of last year’s vote and prompted a special election. Harris dropped out of the race and was replaced on the ballot by Dan Bishop, an ultra-conservative state senator who authored North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill.

McCready and Democrats say they have sought to make the special election about kitchen-table issues – health care and drug prices – hoping to recreate the campaigns that helped Democrats capture a majority in the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Republicans, meanwhile, have worked to tie Bishop to Trump in an effort to turn out the president’s conservative base. 

The two strategies couldn’t be more different; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has tried to avoid nationalizing the special election, playing a behind-the-scenes role for most of the race. Republicans, on the other hand, have homed in on national issues like Trump’s proposed border wall. Trump is set to rally for Bishop in Fayetteville, N.C. on Monday.

Democrats are convinced they have an edge in voter enthusiasm – and some Republicans fear that may be the case. But they’re hoping that Trump’s visit to the district ahead of Election Day will help propel Bishop over the finish line.


Looming over the final days of the race is Hurricane Dorian, which bore down on the North Carolina coast on Friday. The weather closed a number of early voting sites this week, throwing a wrench in both parties’ efforts to turn out voters ahead of Election Day. Both McCready and Bishop have called for state officials to extend early voting through Saturday.

Also happening on Tuesday: the special election in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District to replace former Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesRepublican Greg Murphy wins special election in NC's 3rd District Early voting extended in NC counties impacted by Dorian ahead of key House race The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina special election poses test for GOP ahead of 2020 MORE (R-N.C.), who passed away earlier this year. That race has been much quieter, however, with Republican Greg Murphy favored to win over Democrat Allen Thomas.

I’m heading to NC-09 this week for the final days of the race, so be sure to check back for dispatches from the district.

-- Max Greenwood



North Carolina closes early voting for key House race as Dorian batters state, from The Hill’s Julia Manchester.



LATE BREAKING NEWS: Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz abandoned his plans to launch a 2020 bid, writing in a letter on Friday that “not enough people today are willing to consider backing an independent candidate because they fear doing so might lead to re-electing a uniquely dangerous incumbent president.” Schultz’s departure from the 2020 race comes amid a winnowing of the crowded field that has already seen five candidates drop out in recent weeks.


The Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports from Austin -- Texas Republicans are sounding the alarm as Democratic presidential candidates get ready for their debate next week in Houston, warning that the Lone Star State could become more purple if the party doesn’t treat it as a 2020 battleground.


Democrats are struggling to find the right candidate to compete in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, The Hill’s Niall Stanage reports.


Also this week, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE defended his ties to a former fossil fuel executive at a climate forum, reports The Hill’s Miranda Green. Meanwhile, Biden’s team is playing the expectations game, saying that he doesn’t have to win Iowa to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.


Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (I-Vt.) is under fire from conservatives for saying he would be open to discussing population control as a means to combat climate change, reports The Hill’s Julia Manchester. Meanwhile, Amie Parnes reports that Sanders is struggling to attract older voters, making his path to the nomination tougher.



Reid Wilson: The 10 counties that will decide the 2020 election.


Froma Harrop: Biden will win despite apparent lack of enthusiasm around his campaign.

Philip Elliot: Biden holds fragile lead over Democratic field.

Sahil Kapur: Why Harris hasn’t caught fire.



The Human Rights Campaign will host a town hall with the Democratic presidential contenders next month to focus on LGBTQ issues (The Hill) … Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE (D-Mass.) has adopted parts of Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeO'Rourke ends presidential bid Sunrise Movement organizer: Sanders, Warren boast strongest climate change plans Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate MORE’s climate plan as her own (The Hill) … Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (D-Calif.) has a $10 trillion climate plan (The Hill) … South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul Buttigieg2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE would use the Defense Department to combat climate change (The Hill) … Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBiden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel Press: Another billionaire need not apply Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal MORE (D-Colo.) has unveiled an education plan promising free preschool and community college (The Hill) … Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel Press: Another billionaire need not apply Obama's former chief economist advising Buttigieg MORE (D) has a plan to support rural communities (The Hill).




FIGHT FOR THE HOUSE: Democrats' lead in the generic 2020 congressional ballot has slipped to 5 points, according to a new Economist–YouGov weekly tracking poll. That represents a 6 point week-over-week drop.


WEST VIRGINIA: Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (D-W.Va.) will stay in the Senate and will not return home to run for governor, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson.


KANSAS: State Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R) announced Wednesday that he will drop his Senate bid to launch a primary challenge against freshman Rep. (R-Kan.) for the state’s 2nd Congressional District, reports The Hill’s Juliegrace Brufke.



TRUMP: The president’s approval rating remained steady in August, despite growing fears of an economic recession, according to the latest Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll.


WISCONSIN: A Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday shows Biden leading Trump 51-42 percent in Wisconsin. Sanders also leads Trump in the state, but only by 4 points. Trump is tied with Warren and Harris at 45 and 44 percent support, respectively. 

The Badger State will likely be a must-win state in 2020. Trump flipped it from blue to red in 2016, contributing to his unexpected victory. The state is also slated to play a major role in the Democratic primary. While Sanders won Wisconsin handily in 2016, the Marquette poll presents what his team should see as red flags. The survey shows Biden leading the Democratic primary with 28 percent support, while 20 percent said Sanders was their first choice. 


WARREN RISES: Warren’s support continued to rise, according to an IBD/TIPP survey released on Tuesday. The poll shows the Massachusetts senator with 24 percent of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independent voters, marking a 7-point uptick since August. Meanwhile, Biden’s support decreased by 2 points to 28 percent. 

Warren’s rise in a number of polls can likely be attributed to her growing name recognition and detailed policy proposals on a number of issues. Warren has also had relatively good debate performances, taking the opportunity to tout her proposals on the national stage. But expect Biden to put a dent in her momentum in the next debate when they go head-to-head for the first time on the debate stage. Meanwhile, the latest Harvard CAPS/Harris poll finds Biden at 32 percent support, followed by Sanders at 16 and Warren at 13.


CLIMATE VOTERS: A survey conducted by the Sierra Club released Wednesday shows that Biden is not only leading in national polls among Democrats, but also among climate-focused voters. The former vice president garnered 30 percent support in the poll, while Warren came in second with 21 percent support. Sanders isn’t far behind at 20 percent. Climate change is becoming a defining issue for a number of voters, especially in the Democratic Party. The findings are notable because Biden’s climate plan has been picked apart by some environmentalists and activists. 



  • There are 150 days until the Iowa caucuses, 158 days until the New Hampshire primary, 169 days until the Nevada caucuses, 176 days until the South Carolina primary and 179 days until Super Tuesday.
  • Most of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders will be in Manchester, N.H., this weekend for the state Democratic Party convention.



NOTHING TO SEE HERE: Talk show host Stephen ColbertStephen Tyrone ColbertHelen Mirren, Ian McKellen act out Trump Ukraine call in Colbert appearance Klobuchar to Colbert: We're going 'to build a blue wall' in PA, WI, MI and 'make Trump pay for it' Sherrod Brown: GOP colleagues privately acknowledge Trump is racist, misogynist MORE sat down with Biden on Wednesday to discuss an array of topics, including some of the gaffes the former vice president has made on the 2020 campaign trail.  



Colbert wasted no time in his line of questioning, asking the former VP if he was “going nuts.”

“Look the reason I came on the Jimmy KimmelJames (Jimmy) Christian KimmelThe Hill's 12:30 Report: What we learned from first impeachment transcripts Kimmel shares clip contrasting Obama's announcement of bin Laden's death with Trump's al-Baghdadi speech The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — Buttigieg closes in on Biden, Warren in Iowa MORE show is because I’m not,” Biden quipped in response. 

Biden said he’s had some verbal slip-ups, but argued they were not issue-based gaffes. 

“I think it’s fair to go after a political figure for anything, OK. I mean we stand up, it comes with the territory, but here’s the deal: any gaffes I have made, and I have made gaffes like every politician I know has, have been not about a substantive issue, have been about I’m trying to talk about what other people have done,” Biden told the talk show host. 

That’s it from us for this week! See you next time!