Elections

He’s not on the ballot, but Trump has jumped into NC’s 9th District race. Will it work?

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9th Congressional District special election

Republican Dan Bishop, Democrat Dan McCready, Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith are running in the Sept. 10 special election.

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With tweets, emails and soon a visit aboard Air Force One, President Donald Trump has gone all in for Republican Dan Bishop in North Carolina’s special 9th Congressional District election.

That’s helped get unaffiliated voters like Trent Merchant to the polls — for Democrat Dan McCready.

“Even if I like a Republican personally, I don’t know if I trust their ability to act independently,” said Merchant, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member. “I see another vote for a delusional president.”

Trump is scheduled to fly to Fayetteville Monday night for a rally with Bishop. Vice President Mike Pence plans to hold an event earlier in the day at Wingate University in Union County. Donald Trump Jr. headlined a fundraiser last week in Monroe.

Polls show Bishop and McCready locked in a tight race in a district Trump won by 12 points in 2016 and which no Democrat has won since 1963. Analysts rate it a toss-up, especially with an expected low turnout. Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith are also running.

State officials called the special election in February after evidence of election fraud led them nullify the 2018 election, in which McCready trailed Republican Mark Harris by 905 votes on Election Day. The seat has been vacant since January.

“The stakes are high — we NEED to win,” Trump wrote in a fundraising email for Bishop this week. “America doesn’t need more obstructionist Democrats who will be a rubber-stamp for Nancy Pelosi’s radical socialist agenda.”

Some analysts say the stakes are high for Trump himself.

“For Trump it’s important in terms of North Carolina and nationally that he shows that he has the clout to produce a good turnout,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “He needs to produce.”

Even without Trump’s involvement, the election has drawn national attention.

North Carolina not only will be a battleground state in the 2020 presidential race but Republicans will hold their national convention in Charlotte next summer. The party and its allies have poured millions into the race that many see as a harbinger of next year’s elections.

“Trump’s re-election depends on North Carolina, and a Democratic upset would be a genuine sign of danger for the president heading into 2020,” analyst David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report wrote recently.

Internal polling by both parties shows a close race, although a bi-partisan poll published last week in Inside Elections showed McCready up by 4 points, still within the margin of error. It also showed 47% of 9th District voters approve of Trump’s performance while 48% disapprove.

Race ‘about Trump’

After meeting with seniors this week in Matthews, Bishop made his support for the president clear to a TV reporter.

“This race has been a very clear choice,” he said, “between President Trump’s agenda and vision . . . and a vision advanced by Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

Like Trump Jr., who sought to tie McCready to Democratic “socialists” and ‘‘the Hamas wing of Congress,” Bishop said the election is a choice between two “nationalized visions.” Trump on one hand. Socialism on the other.

McCready, however, has consistently cast himself as a moderate and sought to distance himself from national Democrats.

In April he returned a $2,000 contribution to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota after her controversial comments about Israel. Speaking to the same group of seniors in Matthews this week, he dismissed the “crazy aspirational things” that some presidential candidates have called for. And last year he said he wouldn’t support Pelosi for speaker.

Like many Democrats did in 2018 on their way to retaking the House, he’s made his campaign about health care. It’s a message that adviser Morgan Jackson has said “appeals to middle-of-the-road voters.”

But Bishop adviser Jim Blaine told Politico last month that, “This race is about Donald Trump. Dan’s embraced Trump 100%.”

That’s good enough for voters like Republican Douglas Vandergriff of Charlotte.

“I like Dan Bishop’s politics and record — and he supports Trump,” said Vandergriff, who early-voted in southeast Charlotte.

For Sharon Stephens, an unaffiliated voter from southeast Charlotte, voting in the race was “100%” about Trump. She voted for McCready.

“I don’t like Trump,” she said. “That’s putting it mildly.”

Not ‘most presidents’

Even though the 9th District remains the year’s only competitive special election, it’s rare for presidents to get so involved in a single congressional race.

“It does say something about Trump that he would come on election eve,” said Sabato. “Most presidents wouldn’t be caught dead on election eve for an election he may not win.”

But Trump isn’t most presidents, said GOP strategist Paul Shumaker.

“He’s been pretty aggressive across the board,” Shumaker said. “He’s engaged in primaries. . . He’s done a lot of things other presidents have not done.”

Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, said Trump would take credit for a Bishop victory. If he loses, “The president’s going to get blamed for the loss whether he puts in any effort at all,” Gonzales said. “So I guess there’s minimal additional risk for interjecting himself in a public way.”

Sabato of the University of Virginia said the race is important to Republicans for one reason.

“They can’t afford to lose it,” he said, “not because the seat matters in the House of Representatives but the seat matters to one Donald J. Trump.”

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