A loss is a loss. But sometimes a loss can reveal the seeds of a future victory. FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich sets the stage regarding the NC-9 special election, one of two congressional seats the GOP held on to yesterday.
That race was the do-over election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where alleged election fraud tainted the results of the 2018 contest to such a degree that the state elections board opted to hold a new election. After the Republican candidate got just 905 more votes than the Democrat in the 2018 election, Republicans pulled off a clearer win this year: Based on unofficial results as of 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop defeated Democrat Dan McCready 51 percent to 49 percent. However, Democrats did 11 points better in the district than we’d expect them to in a neutral political environment, as this is normally a heavily Republican district; it is 14 points redder than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric. And Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016.
The results also represent a continuation of the mini-realignment we’ve seen in the Trump era of suburbs getting bluer and rural areas moving even more toward the GOP. For instance, McCready lost the district even as he won suburban Mecklenburg County by 13 percentage points, an improvement on the 2018 results, when he won Mecklenburg by 10 points. (The portion of Mecklenburg that falls in the 9th District consists of affluent white areas of metro Charlotte.) But as noted by Ryan Matsumoto, an analyst at Inside Elections, McCready did worse than his 2018 performance in every other county, most of which are sparsely populated.
It is good news for Dems about the Mecklenburg suburb. But it’s also a little worrisome that McCready lost support in some rural districts. Bishop may have gotten a ‘Trump bump’ in the wake of the President’s visit to the district. It’s unclear how McCready’s campaign allocated resources, which could explain the changes from the midterms. Or it could be that Republican Bishop just had a better turnout effort in the rural districts.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections has a useful ‘hover map,’ which breaks down the vote by county. There is very little data on turnout or demographic breakdowns available yet.
Dems are less disappointed by the NC-3 loss, because they had more assets in play in NC-9, which has a Cook Partisan Voting Index score of R+8, compared to NC-3’s R+12.
In their article, “Why Republicans shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief after N.C. win,” Steven Shepard, Laura Barron-Lopez and Alex Isenstadt write at Politico,
Meanwhile, Democrats were quick to find the silver lining in McCready’s narrow defeat. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee noted that there are nearly three dozen GOP-held House seats that are less Republican-leaning than North Carolina’s 9th District.
“We fell an inch short tonight, but it took more than $6 million in outside Republican spending and a last-minute Trump rally to scrape by in a district that the president carried by 11.9 points,” Bustos said.
We have learned that, with Republicans, you can never rule out voter supression and other vote rigging “irregularities.” Hell, fraud was the reason for the NC-9 do-over in the first place. At least one legit poll indicated that MaCready was in position for an upset. Yet, considering the big picture, Rakich explains:
Other indicators also suggest that the national environment has gotten slightly less blue since 2018 but still favors Democrats, though they disagree how much. As of April, Democrats were also overperforming in the average state-legislative special election (of which we have dozens of examples since 2018) by 5 percentage points, and they have had several even stronger performances recently. And our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot4 gives Democrats a 6.5-point lead; just before the 2018 election, Democrats had an 8.7-point lead, which almost exactly matched the eventual House popular vote.
So, let’s not read too much into the results of a special election. Sure, there would have been delerious dancing in the Democratic streets had NC-9 gone the other way. But maybe cautious optimism is the best consolation tonic for Dems at this juncture.