North Carolina race shows subur­ban trou­ble for Trump

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Repub­li­cans won the closely watched spe­cial elec­tion for a House seat Tues­day in North Carolina, but the close re­sult is a fresh sign that the party risks los­ing the bigger war in 2020 for the subur­ban vote, the same bloc that pro­pelled Democrats to take con­trol of the House last year.

Pres­i­dent Trump took a vic­tory lap and Repub­li­can of­fi­cials breathed a sigh of re­lief Wed­nes­day af­ter Dan Bishop squeezed out a 51% to 49% win over Demo­crat Dan McCready in a dis­trict that Mr. Trump car­ried by 12 per­cent­age points over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016. At stake was an open seat that Repub­li­cans have held since the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Bishop and Repub­li­can-aligned groups in­vested $6 mil­lion in the race and brought Mr. Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence to North Carolina to rally vot­ers.

But poll­ster John Cou­vil­lon said the re­sults out of south­east North Carolina fit a broader post-2016 trend in which Repub­li­cans have rid­den to vic­tory in spe­cial elec­tions with the sup­port of

ru­ral vot­ers while hem­or­rhag­ing sup­port in the for­merly GOP-lean­ing sub­urbs.

It’s not a good trade-off in pres­i­den­tial elec­tion years, when a far larger elec­torate is in play, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say. De­fect­ing Repub­li­cans in subur­ban ar­eas could change the cal­cu­lus in a num­ber of key states.

“What that means at a macro level is it def­i­nitely puts Ari­zona in play. It also means that Don­ald Trump is likely go­ing to have to spend some [cam­paign] funds in Ge­or­gia, Texas and North Carolina,” Mr. Cou­vil­lon said. “Even though I think he will ul­ti­mately win those states, the fact that you have sub­urbs and ur­ban ar­eas where white-col­lar pro­fes­sion­als are de­sert­ing the Repub­li­can Party, it will have a di­rect im­pact on the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in those states.”

David Wasserman of the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port told MSNBC Wed­nes­day, “This is a five-alarm fire for Trump in the sub­urbs.” If the vot­ing trends from Tues­day hold for 2020, he said, Mr. Trump would lose the state to a Demo­cratic chal­lenger.

Those four states also will have high-pro­file Se­nate races that could de­ter­mine whether Repub­li­cans keep their slim 53-47 seat ma­jor­ity.

With Tues­day’s vic­tory, Repub­li­cans now need to pick up 19 seats in the House to claim the ma­jor­ity, but a string of re­tire­ments could ex­pand the play­ing field for Democrats. Repub­li­cans will have a hard time tak­ing con­trol of the lower cham­ber if they con­tinue to lose sup­port in the sub­urbs.

Kyle Kondik, of the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics, said the good news for Repub­li­cans is they most likely won’t have to spend heav­ily in North Carolina’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict now that Mr. Bishop, a con­ser­va­tive state sen­a­tor from the Char­lotte sub­urbs, cap­tured the seat.

“With Bishop in place, the dis­trict prob­a­bly isn’t a ma­jor Demo­cratic tar­get next year,” Mr. Kondik said. “Trump may have helped with his late rally, but if [Mr. Trump] weren’t so un­pop­u­lar over­all, this race may not have been such an ex­pen­sive slog for Repub­li­cans in the first place.”

Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties for Democrats

The spe­cial elec­tion in North Carolina also ex­posed Democrats’ con­tin­ued weakness in small towns and ru­ral ar­eas, which have pro­vided a re­li­able bul­wark for Mr. Trump and other Repub­li­cans, mak­ing it that much more dif­fi­cult for even mod­er­ate Democrats to win in red states.

“From a Demo­cratic per­spec­tive, it means the epi­cen­ter of your base is be­com­ing more ur­ban and subur­ban, and they con­tinue to hem­or­rhage sup­port in the ru­ral ar­eas,” Mr. Cou­vil­lon said. “In prac­ti­cal terms, that means if you are run­ning statewide in Ok­la­homa, Ken­tucky or West Vir­ginia, or ru­ral Min­nesota or ru­ral Iowa, your life is get­ting tougher as well.”

House Demo­cratic Caucus Chair Ha­keem S. Jef­fries ar­gued that the spe­cial elec­tion in North Carolina should have never been so close and said House Democrats will have the chance to flip dozens of seats in less Trump-friendly dis­tricts next year.

“They squeaked by, and I don’t think any Repub­li­can in the House who’s con­cerned about his or her elec­toral prospects can feel bet­ter about the sit­u­a­tion,” the New York Demo­crat said on Capi­tol Hill.

Mean­while, Mr. Trump, who head­lined an elec­tion eve rally with Mr. Bishop, ex­pressed no doubts about what hap­pened at the bal­lot box. He told re­porters at the White House that the Bishop vic­tory was “in­cred­i­ble” and a “tremen­dous win for the Repub­li­can Party.”

“The me­dia thought he was go­ing to lose,” Mr. Trump said. “They were all set to have a big cel­e­bra­tion with their part­ners from the Demo­crat Party.”

In his post­elec­tion anal­y­sis, Mr. Wasserman said the out­come in North Carolina shows “the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment hasn’t got­ten much bet­ter for Repub­li­cans since the 2018 midterms” and that “many Trump vot­ers aren’t jazzed about show­ing up for down-bal­lot GOP politi­cians when Trump’s not on the bal­lot.”

“The sil­ver lin­ing for red-seat Repub­li­cans: Trump will be back on the bal­lot next fall,” Mr. Wasserman said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

WIN­NER: Dan Bishop gave Repub­li­cans an­other seat in the House with his vic­tory Tues­day in North Carolina, but his sup­port was mostly from ru­ral vot­ers.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Trump ral­lied to sup­port to Dan Bishop on the eve of a spe­cial elec­tion to fill a seat in North Carolina’s 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. The close race in a long-held Repub­li­can dis­trict in­di­cated a tough fight for Mr. Trump in his re­elec­tion race next year.

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