News and Commentary

Trump Passes ‘Test’ In North Carolina: Republicans Win Both Congressional Seats
State Senator Dan Bishop, a Republican from North Carolina, speaks during a rally with U.S. President Donald Trump, left, in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.
Madeline Gray/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In what has been hyped as a key “test for Trump” in North Carolina, two congressional seats up for special election both went Republican, one handily and the other narrowly.

Voters in North Carolina’s 3rd and 9th Congressional Districts went to the polls on Tuesday to decide which side of the aisle would control the two seats up for grabs — one to fill the vacant seat of late-Republican Rep. Walter Jones and the other for a re-do election after the results of the 2018 election were tossed out due to fraud allegations against a consultant for a Republican.

Republican Greg Murphy was declared the victor Tuesday night in the 3rd District election, easily defeating Democrat Allen Thomas. With the vast majority of the votes in, Murphy secured 62% of the vote against Thomas’s 38%.

Murphy’s defeat of Thomas was widely expected, as the 3rd District, which “stretches across Eastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune,” as described by Politico, leans heavily Republican.

The 9th District, which includes the suburbs of Charlotte and stretches east to Fayetteville, has likewise been securely held by Republicans for decades, but many analysts saw the re-do election, which was triggered by accusations of fraud against a consultant for the Republican midterm candidate, as a potential pick-up for Democrats and a strong “test” for Trump, as many outlets framed it.

Despite the vulnerability of the seat, the GOP held firm Tuesday, Republican Dan Bishop narrowly defeating moderate Democrat Dan McCready by around 2%, 51% to 49%.

The New York Times interpreted the dual victories as representing Trump’s “appeal with his political base” but also his party’s “deepening unpopularity with suburban voters.”

“The race was being closely watched for possible signs of weakness among Republican voters that could have spelled bad news nationally in 2020 for President Donald Trump, who endorsed Bishop and campaigned for him on Monday, NBC News notes.

On the eve of the election, Trump called on North Carolina voters of the 9th District to turn out to back the Republican candidate. As noted by the Times, Trump easily won the district in 2016, beating Clinton by almost 12 points. The narrow victory, the Times suggests, indicates that Trump’s hold on the district has slipped.

“For Democrats looking ahead to 2020, those midterm results and Mr. Bishop’s slim margin in a conservative seat 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,” the Times reports. “As even some Republican pollsters and officials privately acknowledge, Mr. Trump — whose approval ratings have slipped in several recent polls — needs to improve his standing with college-educated voters, particularly women. He carried North Carolina by 3.6 percentage points in 2016.”

But Trump sees things differently than the hopeful Democrats. In a series of tweets Tuesday night, Trump celebrated the “BIG NIGHT.”

“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night. Now it looks like he is going to win. @CNN & @MSNBC are moving their big studio equipment and talent out. Stay tuned!” Trump tweeted. “Greg Murphy is a big winner in North Carolina 03. Much bigger margins than originally anticipated. Congratulations Greg!” he added in a follow-up tweet. “BIG NIGHT FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL!”

In NBC’s coverage of the Bishop’s victory, the network notes that “every one of the dozen voters who spoke with NBC News in Indian Trail, a suburb of Charlotte, said the president was a factor in their decision.”

North Carolina was one of the key battleground states in the 2016 election that Trump ended up winning. The southern state, along with Florida, another battleground state, and the Rust Belt, helped Trump amass a sizable victory in the Electoral College (306-232) despite Clinton winning the popular vote by around 3 million votes.

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This article has been expanded to include Trump’s tweets and revised for clarity.