Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election

The result of Tuesday’s special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District didn’t take many political analysts by surprise. Republican Dan Bishop was predicted to win the district, which had been in Republican hands since 1963.

But it may surprise analysts to know that my people, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, proved crucial to Bishop’s victory.  

They shouldn’t be surprised. The Lumbee are culturally conservative, church-going and entrepreneurial. And more and more of us are distressed by the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party.

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The preliminary election returns show that we helped deliver the election to Bishop.

The Lumbee make up a plurality of residents in Robeson County, located in the southeastern part of the district. In 2018 Democrat Dan McCready defeated 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 some 4,700 votes in the county. On Tuesday, McCready beat Bishop by just 233 votes there, according to unofficial results posted by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

That difference delivered the election to Bishop, who beat McCready by just 3,937 votes overall.

In Robeson precincts with at least 50 percent American Indian voter registration, McCready underperformed his 2018 totals. In the 35th precinct, for instance, American Indian voters make up 90 percent of registered voters. McCready’s share of the vote dropped from 53 percent last year to 39 percent on Tuesday. In the 4th precinct, where American Indians make up 87 percent of voters, McCready’s support fell from 58 percent to 42 percent.

Overall, McCready’s vote share dropped in all but two of the 14 majority-American Indian precincts. All told, McCready’s average in those precincts declined from 58 percent ten months ago to 47 percent on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in precincts where American Indians are not a majority of registered voters, McCready’s vote share dropped only five points, from 56 percent to 51 percent.

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How did this happen?

Lumbee have historically voted Democratic. But that’s slowly changing. Lumbee are pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. We go to church and we have a healthy distrust of government.

Many Lumbee feel that the national Democratic party has simply left them behind as they’ve embraced more extreme social and economic positions. We’re tired of Democratic policies that insult our faith and fail us economically. Democrats’ opposition to voter identification laws, support for abortion-on-demand and attacks on religious liberty have alienated many Lumbee.

Locally, Robeson County has been dominated by Democrats since the post-Reconstruction era, and we have little to show for it. We consistently rank high in social ills and low in health and economic well-being.

Bishop’s embrace of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE during the campaign helped him with Lumbee voters. On the backs of Lumbee voters, Trump became the first Republican since 1972 to win Robeson County. Trump won in 2016 in part because he campaigned against the free trade agreements that have devastated our communities.

But Lumbee support cannot be guaranteed or taken for granted by either party. Any candidate who wants to win our votes must take the time to visit Lumbee Country, fight for Lumbee values and pull their weight in the 134-year struggle for full federal recognition.

For decades Lumbees were told by their local leaders which candidates to vote for, and typically those candidates were Democratic. In Tuesday’s special election, many Lumbee broke with the tribal leaders to pull the lever for the Republican.

Some Democrats look at the Lumbee as a minority group that’s supposed to vote in lock step with the liberal agenda. But Lumbee people are independent-minded and look beyond the color of a candidate’s skin or the letter next to their name.

Lumbee are educators, ministers, business owners, farmers, soldiers, doctors, engineers, professional athletes and still hold on to the Lumbee way of life through our community and creator. We hold strong to the values of family and hard work. And at the moment, the Republican Party does a better job of respecting those values.

Jarrod Lowery is a former U.S. Marine and current member of the Lumbee Tribal Council. He was a 2018 candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives in Robeson County.