In 2016, Republican bleeding in the suburbs was bad. But, last year, the floodgates burst and historically red districts nestled in suburbs as geographically diverse to be in TX, OK, and SC turned blue. While North Carolina’s suburbs turned a bright shade of purple, no districts flipped at the Congressional level. Legislative races were a different story.
Last Tuesday, Democrats got a chance to redo the closest outcome in North Carolina last year, NC-9. The district takes in affluent suburbs in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County) and stretches out to include majority-black counties, Native American territory and the heavily white Union County.
The redo was required after absentee ballot fraud was found to be perpetrated by the a campaign consultant of Republican Mark Harris. Since the fraud potentially impacted more than the 905 vote margin Harris beat Democrat Dan McCready with, a redo was ordered.
Republicans eventually settled on state senator Dan Bishop, to liberals the nefarious architect of SB-2, “The Bathroom Bill.” Democrats went with their 2018 nominee and centrist, lab-grown candidate Dan McCready. The race was largely billed as a test of just how toxic the President remained in these historically red but trending blue suburbs.
The result was actually surprising. Republicans were bracing for a loss in a district where Trump had prevailed by 12 points in 2016 but the GOP held by less than one percent less year. Despite being out-spent and fielding a weak candidate the GOP actually improved their margins in the district by almost 2 percent.
In the nearby NC-3 special election, a solidly red district anchored by Fort Bragg, Republican Greg Murphy actually out-performed Trump and won by a point more. Hardly a sign of Presidential toxicity in a race neither party showed any interest in.
How Bishop pulled it off provides Republicans a roadmap for these kinds of suburban/rural districts. Put succinctly by seasoned political analyst David Wasserman, “If you had told me yesterday McCready would carry Mecklenburg County (Bishop’s base in Charlotte burbs) by 12.6 percent after only winning it by 9.5 percent in 2018 I would have bet he won.” Basically, Bishop ran up the score in rural/exurban areas even as McCready turned out his affluent, white base in the suburbs.
In other words, Republicans don’t necessarily need to limit their losses in the burbs. But, they do need, depending on the district, to make up for it in rural/exurban areas. Otherwise,they are in trouble.
Notably, the election results also offer lessons for pollsters. While there was limited public and private polling of the contest it showed Bishop trailing every time. The most touted poll of the contest, a bipartisan survey conducted by a Republican and Democratic pollster, showed McCready up 49-44. Polling results almost eight points in the opposite direction shows while special elections might be unique, pollsters still have not figured out how to model the electorate.
Both Republicans and Democrats were closely watching the election for signs of what 2020 would bring. At best, it shows there is a limit for Democrats anti-Trump and healthcare centric agenda but it also shows how resistant suburban voters are to the Trump era GOP. That said, NC-3 showed a roadmap for the President’s 2020 coalition, lose the burbs even worse than in 2016, but make up for it by increasing margins in rural areas. Until Tuesday, the belief was the President and many Republicans had maxed out their gains in rural areas. But, apparently, as Democrats have been gaining in the suburbs, the GOP has been growing in rural areas. This won’t keep suburban/rural districts red forever or help every GOP President, but it might be enough to keep Trump in the White House next year.