With Pittenger's loss, North Carolina's 9th District becomes even more of a national showdown

Democrats’ enthusiasm about potentially winning North Carolina’s 9th congressional district for the first time in 58 years got two shots of adrenaline Tuesday, from Republican Robert Pittenger’s surprising loss and Democrat Dan McCready’s overwhelming win.

Pittenger entered Tuesday believing he was on safer ground than he was two years ago, when he beat former Baptist preacher Mark Harris by just 134 votes in a newly drawn district. But Harris pulled the upset this time, likely making the 9th District even more vulnerable to flipping parties than it already was. And McCready’s dismissal of Democratic challenger Christian Cano positions him to attract even more national attention and money and to ride a blue wave in November, if there is one.

It is by winning Republican districts like the 9th around the country that Democrats could take control of the U.S. House and block President Trump’s agenda. Pittenger and Harris each cast the other as insufficiently supportive of Trump. But Republican voters were tired of Pittenger, who was seen as part of the “establishment” and whom one national analyst had dubbed the biggest Republican “slacker” in the House.

Almost as notable as Pittenger’s loss was McCready’s performance. Not only did he sprint past Cano in his first run for office, but he also motivated voters to get to the polls in unusual numbers. Far more Democratic voters than Republicans turned out in District 9, even though it’s a Republican-leaning district and had a more competitive Republican primary than Democratic one. That suggests Democratic enthusiasm in November. If Republicans can’t win seats like the 9th, which went solidly for Trump, they are in trouble.

North Carolina and three other states held the first primaries of the year Tuesday. Dozens of others will follow in coming weeks and will begin to make clear how the November landscape will look. There’s a buzz in the air, not of impending revolution, perhaps, but certainly of change. Voters are unsettled, some even infuriated, and they’re intent on being heard more than they have in a generation.

They’ll have their chance in November, when 470 U.S. House and Senate seats and 170 N.C. House and Senate seats are up for election. In Mecklenburg, they started Tuesday by kicking two incumbents – Democrats Joel Ford and Rodney Moore – out of office, as well as incumbent Democratic Sheriff Irwin Carmichael.

Those three will or are likely to be replaced by other Democrats, and Republicans are at risk of losing their veto-proof supermajorities in Raleigh. Three races in Mecklenburg in November will help determine that: Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte in a toss-up district against Natasha Marcus; Republican Rep. John Bradford in a potentially competitive race against Christy Clark; and Republican Rep. Andy Dulin against Democratic attorney Brandon Lofton, if he survives a residency challenge.

On this night, at least, Democrats had reason to cheer.