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North Carolina's 9th District highlights trouble spots for both parties

Simone Pathe, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Within eight minutes of each other Wednesday morning, the two House campaign committees blasted out dueling memos about what Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop's 2-point victory in North Carolina's 9th District means for the country's political future.

The posturing was typical of reactions to special elections in the era of President Donald Trump. Publicly, at least, Republicans say everything is fine, while Democrats celebrate a narrow loss in a district that shouldn't have been competitive.

Still, there are warning signs for both parties in Tuesday's result.

Democrats once again saw that Trump, who held a rally in the district on the eve of the election, had the power to motivate rural white voters. National Democrats worked to engage with minorities on the ground, but they didn't turn out for Democrat Dan McCready as much as he needed.

But the president's power cuts both ways. He continues to turn off suburban voters, which is a bigger problem for Republicans given the kinds of districts that will be competitive in 2020.

"We had to go through this entire exercise to be told the environment still sucks for Republicans," a GOP operative involved in House races said.

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Had they lost this district, Republicans would have needed a net gain of 20 seats to win back the House majority next year. Now they need 19 seats -- still an uphill battle considering there are 44 other GOP districts where Trump did worse in 2016 than he did in North Carolina's 9th.

Special elections are special, and this one was uniquely special, given that it was a redo of a 2018 contest that was never certified because of election fraud tied to the GOP nominee Mark Harris' campaign. But the lessons both parties are taking from this race will be instructive for how they navigate 2020, especially in a political battleground like North Carolina.

Republicans are spinning Bishop's victory as sign of good things to come in 2020.

"Revolution not retirements," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Tuesday night, trying to refute conventional wisdom that a close race in the 9th District would spur more members of the minority to reconsider running for reelection next year.

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