Ru­ral ar­eas helped lift Bishop to vic­tory in spe­cial election

The Charlotte Observer - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM MORRILL jmor­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Just 10 months ago, Demo­crat Dan McCready eas­ily won Robe­son County, rack­ing up a mar­gin of al­most 5,000 votes in a county that hadn’t elected its first Repub­li­can un­til a few years ago.

But in Tues­day’s spe­cial 9th District con­gres­sional election, McCready barely edged Repub­li­can Dan Bishop in the county.

It was Bishop’s per­for­mance in Robe­son and three other eastern coun­ties that helped lift him to a nar­row vic­tory over McCready.

Bishop’s win un­der­scored the chal­lenge Democrats have among con­ser­va­tive ru­ral vot­ers. By ty­ing himself to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Bishop out­per­formed Mark Har­ris, the 2018 GOP can­di­date, in seven of the 9th District’s eight coun­ties. He flipped two coun­ties McCready had car­ried and came close to flip­ping an­other.

But it also am­pli­fied Repub­li­can chal­lenges in more af­flu­ent ur­ban ar­eas. In Meck­len­burg County, McCready im­proved on his 2018 show­ing in win­ning all but one precinct Dan McCready in what had been strongly Repub­li­can south­east Char­lotte.

“Meck­len­burg’s clas­sic Repub­li­can south­east Char­lotte wedge has pretty much col­lapsed,” said po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Michael Bitzer of Catawba Col­lege.

Bishop beat McCready by just un­der 4,000 votes. Har­ris led him by 905 votes af­ter the 2018 election, nul­li­fied af­ter evidence of election fraud by a Har­ris cam­paign op­er­a­tive.

Democrats sought a silver lin­ing in Tues­day’s re­sults that gave Bishop a 2-point win in a district Trump car­ried by nearly 12. But Repub­li­cans lauded the vic­tory and the im­pact of Trump’s election eve rally in Fayet­teville.

“It is di­rectly as a re­sult of the pres­i­dent com­ing in and do­ing that rally for Dan Bishop and pulling him across the fin­ish line to vic­tory last night,” GOP na­tional Chair Ronna McDaniel told Fox News Wed­nes­day.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 cam­paign man­ager, told re­porters on Wed­nes­day that the GOP’s dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing and grass­roots can­vass­ing boosted turnout and fu­eled the Repub­li­can vic­tory. He also al­luded to the pres­i­dent’s July rally in Greenville.

“Turnout in Cum­ber­land County was higher than we’d ex­pect given his­tor­i­cal prece­dent,” Parscale said, char­ac­ter

iz­ing the pres­i­dent’s two ap­pear­ances as “price­less” events that “dom­i­nated news cov­er­age for days.”

RU­RAL VAL­UES

In Robe­son County, regis­tered Democrats still out­num­ber Repub­li­cans 60% to 13%. But they’re the kind of con­ser­va­tive Democrats once known as Jesse­crats who helped elect Repub­li­can Sen. Jesse Helms six times. And in 2012, no county gave a higher per­cent­age of votes to the so-called Mar­riage Amend­ment, the short-lived con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that es­sen­tially banned same-sex mar­riage.

“The main thing I heard was (vot­ers) want some­body who shares their val­ues, some­body go­ing to look out for mid­dle-class work­ing Amer­i­can, who shares Chris­tian val­ues,” said state Sen. Danny Britt, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents the county. “They saw McCready as... a wealthy elitest.”

Phillip Stephens, the GOP chair of Robe­son County, said con­ser­va­tive val­ues pushed vot­ers to­ward Bishop. Though crit­i­cized in some cir­cles as the au­thor of House Bill 2, the 2016 mea­sure that re­quired trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the bath­rooms of the gen­der on their birth cer­tifi­cate in govern­ment build­ings, it worked to his ad­van­tage in Robe­son, Stephens said.

“When they called him the bath­room bill spon­sor they thought they were at­tack­ing him,” Stephens said. “But in the ru­ral ar­eas that was seen as a com­pli­ment.”

Bishop also ben­e­fited from sup­port from GOP Se­nate col­leagues like Britt and Sen. Tom McIn­nis, who rep­re­sents three ru­ral coun­ties in the district. Bishop’s con­sul­tants, Jim Blaine and Ray Martin, had worked with the Se­nate Repub­li­cans in Raleigh and on cam­paigns. McIn­nis said Bishop, a Char­lotte lawyer, had an­other ad­van­tage ap­peal­ing to ru­ral vot­ers.

“Bishop’s mother is from Bladen County,” McIn­nis said. “He re­mem­bers the ru­ral as­pects of North Carolina through his fam­ily.”

But David Wasser­man, an an­a­lyst for the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, said, “It’s less of story of Bishop hav­ing a strong con­nec­tion to (Robe­son County) than McCready hav­ing a weak con­nec­tion to the county.”

SHIFT­ING MES­SAGE

On election night, Trump seemed to take credit for Bishop’s win.

“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago,” the pres­i­dent tweeted. “He then asked me for help, we changed his strat­egy to­gether, and he ran a great race.”

Polls, how­ever, showed the race close up to the end. But U.S. Rep. Mark Mead­ows said Bishop did change his strat­egy a few days into early vot­ing, which had shown a big Democratic ad­van­tage.

“We talked about a full embrace of Pres­i­dent Trump and run­ning a de­cid­edly pro-Trump mes­sage about Day 5 or Day 6 of early vot­ing,” Mead­ows told McClatchy Wed­nes­day. “I saw the num­bers start to change at that point . . . . It’s a val­i­da­tion that if you run a cam­paign based on be­ing true to who your val­ues which for Dan Bishop was more of a pro-Trump agenda, the vot­ers will re­spond.”

How much Trump’s rally or Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s day-long swing through the district had to do with the re­sult isn’t clear. What is, said Wasser­man, is “the na­tional Democratic brand is un­der­wa­ter in much of ru­ral North Carolina, even among regis­tered Democrats.”

But Democrats say they’re en­cour­aged by the vote.

“Last night’s nar­row Repub­li­can win in a district Trump won by a dozen points is an omi­nous warn­ing sign for (Sen. Thom) Til­lis . . . and other Repub­li­cans who will be on the bal­lot in North Carolina in 2020,” state Democratic spokesman Robert Howard wrote Wed­nes­day.

McCready strate­gist Mor­gan Jack­son said McCready was hurt by the ab­sence of strong lo­cal Democratic can­di­dates in the eastern coun­ties. But he said McCready showed how a Demo­crat can whit­tle the Repub­li­can ad­van­tage in a district like the 9th.

“The race might not have been suc­cess­ful last night,” he said. “But it might prove to be the blue­print for Democrats to com­pete for years to come.”

WHEN THEY CALLED HIM THE BATH­ROOM BILL SPON­SOR THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE AT­TACK­ING HIM. BUT IN THE RU­RAL AR­EAS THAT WAS SEEN AS A COM­PLI­MENT. Phillip Stephens, Robe­son County GOP chair, re­fer­ring to Dan Bishop, a sup­porter of House Bill 2

Dan Bishop

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