A little over a year after Republican Dan Bishop was narrowly elected to the House of Representatives in a special election, he is fighting to keep his seat in a district where voters have shifted their political leanings in both directions.
He is asked for the seat in the 9th District of North Carolina by first-time candidate Cynthia Wallace. The Democrat, who works in the financial services industry, replaces Bishop and, after years of working on democratic campaigns, expands the majority of her party in the House of Representatives.
The Bishop's race in 2019 was considered an early sign of the 2020 presidential election, with Republican candidate Mark Harris defeating Democrat Dan McCready in the 2018 regular race with just 905 votes. The state's electoral board did not confirm the results, however, as a campaign employee was accused of running an illegal campaign program. The board voted for a new election, but Harris declined to run again for health reasons.
Bishop, then a senator from Charlotte's Mecklenburg County, replaced Harris as a Republican candidate. At the time, he was mostly for his sponsorship of North Carolina's "bathroom bill" H.B. 2, according to which schools and public institutions with same-sex toilets may only use the toilet that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates.
The bill sparked backlash across the country and weighed on the state's economy as progressives labeled it discriminatory towards transgender people. The NCAA temporarily banned the state from playing championship games, PayPal halted plans to build a new global operations center, and Bruce Springsteen canceled his concert there.
Since joining Congress, Bishop has been a pretty consistent GOP voter who, according to a ProPublica analysis, goes against his party a little more than 5% of the time.
The Cook Political Report rates the race as a leaning Republican. Though Bishop won by less than 5,000 votes, the fact that the Republican candidate won twice will be a challenge for the Democrats to overcome this time, according to Eric Heberlig, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Heberlig said Democrats' awareness of the challenge likely contributed to Wallace's campaign not receiving the same cash inflow as the previous Democratic nominee in 2018, at which point McCready raised more than $ 6.6 million in the regular race , several According to OpenSecrets, his original Republican opponent Harris raised more than $ 2.1 million. This year, Wallace has raised over $ 651,000 as of mid-October, according to Open Secrets, while Bishop has raised nearly $ 4 million.
But Wallace could benefit from a wider shift towards Democrats in the state, which the Cook Political Report has identified as a flaw for the electoral college.
"If Biden is able to win the district, especially because of the high Democratic turnout, it has the potential to improve Wallace's performance because, as we've seen, people are much less likely to share their ticket than before 20 years, "said Heberlig. "The district is competitive enough that even a Democratic candidate who is unable to advertise or stand out from others can suffer from the overall democratic performance in the district."
Wallace told CNBC in an interview earlier this month that she is focusing on local issues that she believes are important to voters in her district, while she says Bishop is focusing on national partisan issues such as calls from progressives outside of the country District has concentrated to disappoint the police.
"I'm talking about the things that will change people's lives, not what's happening in Portland," Wallace said. "My bad luck with [voters] is that you can find someone who will focus on kitchen table issues and their # 1 priority is your economic results."
The bishop's campaign did not make him available for an interview, but in a statement he said he was focused on both local and national issues.
"I'm working hard on my constituents' priorities," Bishop said in the statement. "Some are local, like removing barriers for businesses and families to move forward in the pandemic and advancing recognition of the Lumbee tribes. Others are national but have a big local impact, like my legislation, to make health care more available and affordable I think my opponents disagree on my strong support for law enforcement, but they should tell the cops who supported me and whom I met in Laurinburg, Rockingham, Indian Trail, Monroe, Waxhaw and Charlotte. I work for these people because they & # 39; I work hard for all of us. "
Wallace runs in a purple state in a Republican opposition district and has focused on issues that were pretty safe for Democrats across the country, like healthcare. She said she would support a more unified federal response to the pandemic and criticized her opponent for supporting protests to lift restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
"Do you want someone who is serious about this problem that affects everyone's life?" Wallace said. "One of the cases I'll make people is that you choose someone who takes your health, safety and economy seriously."
The make-up and political leanings of the district have shifted significantly in both directions in recent years, making this election a test of where the district ultimately shakes off.
"Because this district is unusual in the sense that it encompasses both urban and suburban and rural areas, you see all of these national trends in the same district," said Heberlig. "One of the questions for 2020 is whether urban and suburban areas are increasingly changing democratically, whether rural areas are Republican enough to make up for this? Or how do the different turnouts in different locations balance out? In the 9th district we are you see that simply in a microcosm in a district. "
While Union County has remained largely conservative, according to Herberlig, the eastern and western parts of the district are shifting "in opposite directions." The rural areas of the district have shifted more towards Republicans since 2016, while highly educated voters in urban and suburban areas around Charlotte have tended more towards Democrats, Heberlig said.
The election will test how willing voters are to break away from Trump and other Republicans in the state.
"When independents break strongly against Trump and [Sen. Thom] Tillis and say, 'I'm just pissed off at the Republican Party and will vote for all Democrats', that's the kind of trend Wallace is benefiting from would pull you over the top, "said Heberlig.
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