GOP leadership lowers expectations for North Carolina special election

Republican House Whip Steve Scalise calls the NC-09 a ‘swing district’

State Sen. Dan Bishop is running for North Carolina’s 9th District seat, which Republican leaders are now calling a “swing district.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republican leadership lowered expectations for the outcome in Tuesday’s North Carolina’s 9th District special election, calling it a “swing district.”

President Donald Trump carried this district by 12 points in 2016, but Republican outside groups have spent more than $6 million on the race, which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Toss-up.

“You know, the Bishop district is a very tough swing district,” GOP Whip Steve Scalise told reporters Tuesday. 

Republicans appeared to narrowly win this race last fall. GOP nominee Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the results were never certified because of allegations of election fraud tied to the Republican’s campaign. Harris opted not to run in the re-do of the election, and state Sen. Dan Bishop won a crowded GOP primary in May.

Recent polling from Inside Elections put McCready ahead of state Sen. Dan Bishop, 46 percent to 42 percent. 

Scalise praised Bishop and state Rep. Greg Murphy, the GOP nominee in the open 3rd District special election, as “strong candidates.” The 3rd District election is being held to replace the late Republican Walter B. Jones. Murphy is favored to win over Democrat Allen Thomas in that heavily GOP district.

But Scalise also downplayed the significance of special elections.

“You look at the Karen Handel race, two years ago, the most expensive race in the history of Congress,” Scalise said, referring to the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th District. “And that wasn’t an indicator of anything. It was good to win the race, but we don’t have the seat anymore.”

Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff by about 4 points in the special election, but Handel went on to lose in last fall’s midterms. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also downplayed the significance of Tuesday’s special election and the ability to predict anything about the 2020 cycle.

“Special elections are just what they are. They’re special,” he told reporters Tuesday.

McCarthy, who visited the state with Trump on Monday, pointed to the recent hurricane as a potential variable that could set the election further apart from any electoral pattern.

“Does a hurricane change the outcome or make a difference? Because one of the few places in America besides Florida, North Carolina is one [of the] places they actually touched ground,” he said.

The California Republican also praised the GOP candidate in the 9th District. 

“We got a great candidate in Dan Bishop,” McCarthy said.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.