Republican pulls off critical win in North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republican Dan Bishop edged out Democrat Dan McCready in the special election on Tuesday to represent North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, narrowly holding on to a House seat that has been in the GOP’s hands for nearly 60 years.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Bishop led McCready nearly 4,000 votes, or a little over 2 percent of ballots cast – a large enough margin to avoid the possibility of a recount.

Bishop’s win brings to an end a political saga in the 9th District that has spanned more than two years.

A regularly scheduled election in the district last year showed then-Republican candidate 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 leading McCready by a scant 905 votes. But state officials scrapped the results of that race earlier this year after uncovering a massive ballot fraud scheme allegedly operated by a contractor for Harris’s campaign.

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The controversy prompted Harris to step aside as the GOP nominee in the district, kicking off a 10-way primary race. Bishop, a conservative state senator and the North Carolina Republican Party’s preferred candidate, emerged as the winner of that contest.

His victory on Tuesday was a major relief for Republicans, who have maintained an iron grip on the 9th District since 1963.

McCready even liked to remind supporters at his campaign rallies that former President Kennedy was in the White House the last time a Democrat represented the district.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE also carried the district in 2016 by a nearly 12-point margin over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz: 'Too many politicians are being subject to criminal prosecution' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE, and the special election on Tuesday was seen by Republicans as a sort of testing ground for his political messaging heading into 2020.

Indeed, Bishop tied much of his campaign to his support for Trump. On the trail, he often talked about the need to build the president’s long-promised wall on the U.S. southern border and accused McCready of backing “socialist” policies, a key talking point of Trump and Republicans in Washington.

In a victory speech to supporters on Tuesday night, Bishop cast his win as a triumph for Trump. Without the president, he said, his election would not have been possible.

“Last night I told President Trump we weren’t tired of winning,” he said, referring to his appearance alongside Trump at a Monday-night rally in Fayetteville. “We’re not tired of winning. We’re just getting started winning, because we’re seeing the successful results of President Trump’s agenda.”

Democrats, meanwhile, took pains to avoid nationalizing the race, homing in on McCready’s credentials as a Marine Corps veteran and businessman as well as his moderate bona fides.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democratic campaign arm, spent millions of dollars on field operations in the race, delving into paid advertising only in the final stretch of the race. And national Democrats largely refrained from appearing alongside McCready during the campaign.

Speaking to supporters in Charlotte after the election was called on Tuesday, McCready said that he had called Bishop to congratulate him on his win. He recalled his 27 months on the campaign trail, reassuring staffers, volunteers and supporters that their efforts weren’t in vain.

“The people of North Carolina stood up and we faced down the full force of election fraud and voter suppression,” McCready said. “When the people in power sought to silence the power of the voters, stole their ballots, forged signatures, filled in vote choices for them; when they perpetrated the largest case of election fraud in recent American history, we fought back and we won.”

“We were not successful tonight,” he continued, “but I want you to remember that victory postponed is not defeat.”

McCready’s supporters were somber after the race was called for Bishop.

“I knew it was going to come down to a few thousand votes,” José Santiago, a Union County Democratic Party official, said. “I was just hoping those votes would go in our direction.”

McCready ultimately trailed Bishop by a wider margin than he did Harris in 2018 – roughly 4,000 votes compared to 905 votes last year. Counties that McCready carried last year – Richmond in the central part of the district and Cumberland in the east – swung this time for Bishop, while the Republican grew his margins in battleground counties, like Robeson.

Bishop’s victory in the 9th District is a respite for Republicans after the party lost 40 House seats in the 2018 midterm elections, a phenomenon driven largely by suburban and female voters, who have begun to move away from the GOP under Trump’s presidency.

The special election was also seen as something of a bellwether for 2020, when Trump himself will face reelection.

Republicans sought to downplay that notion, pointing to McCready’s more than two years on the campaign trail and massive campaign bank account. Asked in an interview on Monday whether the results of the 9th District election foreshadowed what’s to come in 2020, Kayleigh McEnany, the national secretary for Trump’s reelection campaign, offered a firm “no.”

There were signs, however, that Republicans were concerned about a possible loss in the special election. Republican and conservative groups spent millions on paid advertising in recent months, and Trump and Vice President Pence made last-minute appearances in the district on Monday in an effort to rally support for Bishop ahead of Election Day — efforts that ultimately appeared successful.

“The White House, Republican leadership and all our Republican and conservative partners were there for us every step of the way because they all understood what was at stake in this election,” Bishop said.