CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dan Bishop, a Republican state senator, scored a narrow victory Tuesday in a special House election in North Carolina that demonstrated President Donald Trump's appeal with his political base but also highlighted his party's unpopularity with suburban voters.
Bishop beat Dan McCready, a moderate Democrat, one day after Trump made a full-throated plea for support for the Republican at a rally on the conservative end of a Charlotte-to-Fayetteville district, which the president carried by nearly 12 points in 2016.
With most votes counted, Bishop was ahead by about 2 percentage points.
The fierce fight for the Ninth Congressional District also brought to an end a tortured political drama: The 2018 midterm race for the seat, in which McCready barely lost against a different Republican, was in question for months because of evidence of election fraud on the GOP side. The election was finally thrown out, an embarrassing conclusion for state Republicans who had carved the lines of the deeply red district.
As Trump heads into a re-election year, the close outcome in a district that hasn't been held by Democrats since the 1960s confirmed once more that he energizes the left and some independents to fight against him just as much as he inspires Republicans to fight for him. In 2018, Democratic candidates flipped several GOP-held House seats in districts that Trump had won, a sign of distaste among moderate and suburban voters who reluctantly backed him in 2016.
And that trend shows no sight of abating: on Tuesday, McCready actually performed better in the district's Charlotte suburbs than he did when he lost by a smaller overall margin last year.
For Democrats, those midterm results and Bishop's slim margin in a conservative seat offer more evidence that Trump could face trouble in states such as North Carolina, which is GOP-leaning but filled with the sort of college-educated voters who have grown uneasy with him.
As even some Republican pollsters and officials acknowledge, Trump — who enjoys high approval ratings with Republicans, but slipping ratings with voters overall — needs to improve his standing with suburban voters, particularly women. He carried North Carolina by 3.6 percentage points in 2016.
Trump wasted no time claiming for himself, asserting on Twitter that the Republican candidate was struggling until he "asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race."
Late Tuesday night, McCready appeared before supporters, with his wife, Laura. He offered his support to Bishop, invoking his campaign slogan "country before party."
"This was never a campaign about partisanship," McCready said. "This was always a campaign about values. And we rallied together around the idea that as Americans we are all in this together. We may not have won this campaign, but that does not mean that we were wrong."
In Washington, Bishop's win was not seen by Republicans as appreciably improving their chances of winning the House back in 2020. Indeed, his win came only after outside Republican groups poured more than $5 million into the district.
GOP strategists on Tuesday night said the race was eerily reminiscent of the other, nail-bitingly close special elections in the first year of the Trump presidency, when the party barely hung onto a handful of House seats that in previous years they carried with ease. Those too-close-for-comfort victories, in districts from Kansas and Montana to Georgia and South Carolina, were ominous signs for Republicans ahead of a 2018 midterm election where they lost the House.
Also Tuesday, Republicans won a vacant North Carolina House seat in a special election. Physician Greg Murphy defeated Democrat Allen Thomas in a district along the state's Atlantic coast and will succeed the late GOP Rep. Walter Jones Jr., who died in February after 24 years in Congress.