That special election in North Carolina yesterday played out pretty much as expected. Republican state Senator Dan Bishop had been trailing in the polls last month, but at the end of the trail, the race had tightened considerably. In the end, Bishop won by a razor-thin margin, coming down to a difference of barely 5,000 votes with nearly all precincts reporting. It’s a suburban district that Donald Trump carried by double digits in 2016 and the GOP has held it for half a century. But it’s clearly experiencing both a demographic shift and an increase in Democratic turnout and enthusiasm these days. Still, in the only metric that matters in terms of the balance of power in the House, Democrat Dan McCready managed to lose the same race twice in less than a year.
But you couldn’t tell from the statements being released by his party. To hear them tell it, this was an astounding victory for the Party of the Donkey. (NPR)
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos pointed out that this was already a far more conservative seat than most of the ones Democrats flipped in 2018.”There are 34 Republican-held districts that are more favorable to Democrats than North Carolina’s Ninth. Tonight’s razor-thin result in this ruby-red district solidifies the fact that Democrats are pushing further into Republican strongholds and are in a commanding position to protect and expand our House Majority in 2020.
Was Bishop’s comeback due at least in part to President Trump jumping in and campaigning for him? If you ask the President, that was certainly part of the reason.
So it’s a victory celebration for Bishop, but I think we’d be shortsighted not to admit that Cheri Bustos probably has a point. It’s not unusual to see certain districts and even states experience a gradual shift in ideology over time. As some voters age (and eventually pass away) while others graduate and begin voting, generational changes do take place. Also, when large numbers of people either leave the state or move there from other areas, a similar effect is seen. (Just look at Texas these days.)
But this particular district doesn’t fit that mold. This was a pretty rapid transition. In a period of fewer than 36 months there was a shift of nearly fifteen points in favor of the Democrats. That’s a lot to attribute to voter migration. And if we start seeing patterns like this emerging in suburban districts in other states, the GOP could be in danger of losing more seats in the House rather than taking back control.
Trump’s big trump card (if you’ll pardon the phrase) is the economy. If it keeps on chugging along nicely, the suburban damage may not be that bad. But if things really go pear-shaped and we head into even a mild recession (as so many in the media clearly seem to be cheerleading for), 2020 could turn into an ugly cycle. Stay tuned.