CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The first returns in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District showed Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop locked in a close race Tuesday, as both sides prepared for a long night.
McCready led in early voting 54.3% to Bishop's 45.2%. Democrats typically lead in early voting. Republicans traditionally turn out in greater numbers on Election Day.
The election is the last undecided race of 2018. Last fall's 9th District election was nullified after state officials found evidence of election fraud in Bladen County. Polls have suggested the race is a toss-up.
On Monday the race drew President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to the district to stump for Bishop. Pence even appeared on WBT radio Tuesday morning for a final plug. Trump emailed a final appeal in the afternoon.
Almost $20 million has been spent to blitz the airwaves with TV ads. Only one special House election in U.S. history has seen more outside spending than the nearly $11 million in the 9th District, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Libertarian Jeff Scott and Allen Smith of the Green Party are also running for the seat that has been vacant since January. Republican Mark Harris beat incumbent Robert Pittenger in the 2018 GOP primary.
N.C. Republicans sought unsuccessfully to extend voting hours in one Union Country precinct Tuesday that had the wrong address printed on a web site. The State Board of Elections essentially denied the request.
Tuesday's winner won't have long to celebrate -- filing for his 2020 reelection campaign begins in just 12 weeks.
For both major parties, the race is important for what it suggests about 2020.
Trump carried the 9th District by nearly 12 points in 2016, and no Democrat has represented it since the early 1960s. A Republican loss would embarrass the GOP in a state that next year not only will be a presidential and Senate battleground but host the GOP national convention. And it would show the Democratic Party could replicate its 2018 success by relying on issues like healthcare.