It was as if a memo had gone out to mainstream media outlets around the country. If Dan McCready, the Democrat, wins the special election for the U.S. House from North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, they would declare Republicans in panic and President Trump’s hold over his party gone.
If Bishop won, the line would be that his margins were not high enough and that, although there are no moral victories in politics, it is Republicans who should be concerned about the outcome of the election looking toward 2020.
McCready led in early returns, but Bishop stormed back late to win by about 4,000 votes out of 188,000 cast.
Before the results were in, stories emphasized the panic Republicans might be in if the seat slipped away.
“A loss in North Carolina on Tuesday night would almost certainly be a final straw for some House Republicans wavering about whether or not to run again in 2020,” wrote Chris Cillizza of CNN in “Why this House race could hold the key to 2020.”
“Confronted with the very real possibility that they could lose their seats in an environment in which Trump’s unpredictability is driving voters away from the party more broadly, retiring on their own terms might suddenly look more appealing.”
But once it was over and Bishop had won, the tone changed. Bishop was not the original Republican candidate – he replaced Mark Harris, who won the original race in 2018 but was not certified as the winner after allegations arose of ballot fraud by a consultant to his campaign. He dropped out and Bishop, known as the sponsor of North Carolina’s ‘bathroom bill,’ won a crowded primary in May to face McCready.
“Republicans testing their 2020 strategy to retake the House scored a victory on Tuesday, clinging to a traditionally red seat in a fiercely fought special election,” wrote Molly Redden of Huffington Post in “Republican Wins North Carolina Special Election Seen as 2020 Bellwether: — subhead: “Dan Bishop, a bomb-throwing state senator and Trump loyalist, beat Democrats’ 2018 playbook.”
Bishop, who ran as President Trump’s “ideological twin,” Redden wrote, prevailed “but not without the aid of millions in outside money and a last-minute Trump rally in a district the president won by 12 points in 2016.”
She only later notes that both candidates thrived on outside cash and added that McCready’s campaign lasted 27 months, as if that were a disadvantage.
Richard Fausset and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times took a similar course, saying Bishop “scored a narrow victory on Tuesday in a special House election in North Carolina that demonstrated President Trump’s appeal with his political base but also highlighted his party’s deepening unpopularity with suburban voters.”
It took a “full-throated plea” on the “conservative end of a Charlotte-to-Fayetteville district, which the president carried by nearly 12 points in 2016,” to pull Bishop across the finish line.
Bishop appears to have won by more votes than Harris did, but the Times pointed out only that McCready performed slightly better in the Charlotte suburbs. The results, the Times wrote, “offer more evidence that Mr. Trump could face trouble in states such as North Carolina, which is Republican-leaning but filled with the sort of college-educated voters who have grown uneasy with the president.”
You’d never know Republicans won by the headline on the Atlantic story by David Graham. “North Carolina Gives Republicans a Wake-Up Call,” it reads, with a subhead: “The results of a special election portend trouble for the GOP in 2020 – but also revealed real weaknesses for Democrats.”
McCready’s struggles “may be more revealing for those looking for portents of 2020,” Graham wrote. Democrats have gone for candidates like him – “straitlaced, moderate candidates” they hope “can win over independents and voters who have traditionally leaned Republican but are appalled by Trump.”
But whatever happened, “if even the 9th is a swing district, Republicans can expect a nightmarish congressional election cycle in 2020.”