State Sen. Dan Bishop has won the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s 9th District, avoiding a runoff and kicking off the general election in this year’s most competitive special election.
He’ll next face Dan McCready, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and has amassed a large campaign war chest. National groups from both sides are already eyeing this race, with Republicans hoping to keep a longtime GOP seat in their column and Democrats hoping a Marine veteran will help them grow their House majority.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Bishop led a 10-candidate field with nearly 48 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. He needed to surpass 30 percent to avoid a runoff. Bishop may have won outright even if he hadn’t surpassed 30 percent. Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, who had said he would not request a runoff if he finished behind Bishop, was in second place with nearly 20 percent.
Bishop ran with the backing of the Club for Growth, which spent money attacking both Rushing and real estate agent Leigh Brown. He’d led in three publicized polls before the election, including an internal poll for his campaign and one commissioned by the club.
The National Association of Realtors PAC spent $1.3 million boosting Brown, who was the PAC’s fundraising director until days before jumping into the race. She also received more than $200,000 in contributions from individual real estate agents. Bishop and the club attacked Brown for that outside support and for living outside the district. One of four women running in the primary, she had the backing of VIEW PAC, but did not attract the kind of independent expenditures from GOP women’s groups that helped pediatrician Joan Perry advance to the runoff in North Carolina’s other special election primary this year. Brown finished fourth with 9 percent, behind former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour who took 17 percent.
Bishop replaces Mark Harris as the GOP nominee in this race, which is now headed for a Sept. 10 redo of the general election that occurred last fall but was never certified.
Harris, a retired pastor who defeated former GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger in the May 2018 primary, led MCready by 905 votes at the end of vote counting in November. But in the face of election fraud allegations, the North Carolina State Board of Elections refused to certify the results and began investigating an illegal absentee ballot collection scheme connected to Harris’ campaign. After dramatic public hearings in February, Harris and the state board both called for a new election in the 9th District.
Harris declined to run again, citing health reasons. He endorsed Rushing in the redo primary. Other big names such as Pittenger and former Gov. Pat McCrory passed on the race, which opened up a crowded GOP field. Pittenger had endorsed former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, who was in third place Tuesday night with 17 percent of the vote.
Bishop started this primary as the front-runner. As a state legislator, he sponsored HB2, otherwise known as “the bathroom bill,” a North Carolina law that required people to use bathrooms in government-run facilities that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificates. Bishop didn’t make the bathroom bill — which was later repealed — a part of his public platform, but it likely endeared him to social conservatives in the GOP base.
Even before Bishop won the nomination, Democrats used Bishop’s bathroom bill legacy to fundraise against him. McCready reprised that line in a fundraising email sent moments after Bishop won the nomination.
“That bill discriminated against our state’s LGBTQ community, hurt our national reputation and cost us billions in economic activity. But he fought for it all the way to the end,” McCready’s campaign wrote Tuesday night.
To the extent Democrats make the bathroom bill a general election issue, they’re likely to focus on its economic impact, particularly as a way to appeal to business-minded Republicans and independents in the suburbs.
President Donald Trump carried the district by about 12 points in 2016, but in 2018, Democrats targeted this seat, which stretches along the South Carolina border and includes affluent neighborhoods of Charlotte and its suburbs.
“Dan McCready went through two elections without telling anyone where he stood on anything. That ends tomorrow. Voters deserve a clear choice in this race, and we are going to give them one,” Bishop’s campaign said in a statement Tuesday night.
National Republicans have already signaled they’ll try to tie McCready to his party’s left.
“We look forward to partnering with Dan and his team to ensure socialist rubber-stamp Dan McCready is forced to finally take positions on his party’s radical ideas such as infanticide, a socialist takeover of the entire economy with the Green New Deal and government-run socialized health care,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement Tuesday night.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC backed by House GOP leadership, also congratulated Bishop while taking a swipe at McCready. Since Trump took office, CLF has played heavily in special elections in Republican-held districts that have been closer than expected.