U.S. President Donald Trump is going all-out to try to keep a district of North Carolina in the Republican column in a special congressional election on Tuesday that may serve as a bellwether for his own fortunes in 2020.
Trump heads to Fayetteville, a city in North Carolina’s 9th district, on Monday to rally voters on the eve of the vote, a repeat of a 2018 congressional election that was tainted by fraud. Both political parties expect the results on Tuesday to be close and to provide clues about what is ahead in presidential and congressional elections next year.
“Looking forward to being in the North Carolina tomorrow night. We’re having a BIG RALLY for a great guy, Dan Bishop,” Trump tweeted on Sunday, referring to the Republican nominee, a 55-year-old state senator who has embraced Trump’s policies and some of his political tactics.
“North Carolina, vote for Dan Bishop tomorrow,” Trump added Monday morning. “We need him badly in Washington!”
Vice President Mike Pence is also campaigning for Bishop, delivering remarks at a “Get out the Vote” event with the candidate in the town of Wingate on Monday before joining Trump later Monday evening in Fayetteville.
The sprawling 9th district, a combination of suburban and rural areas stretching south and east of the city of Charlotte, has been represented by Republicans in Congress for decades, and voted for Trump by about 12 percentage points in 2016. For the region to refuse to elect a Republican to Congress now would be a worrisome sign for the president and his party.
But Democrats are daring to hope for an upset by their candidate, Dan McCready, that would build on their takeover of the House of Representatives from Republicans in elections last year and make further inroads in “Trump country.”
North Carolina’s 9th district was already getting more competitive in 2018, when McCready lost narrowly before state officials ruled the election was tainted by an absentee-ballot fraud scheme that benefited McCready’s then-opponent, Republican Mark Harris. A new election was ordered, and Harris declined to run again.
Republicans nominated Bishop, whose campaign ads have said McCready “admires socialism” and linked him to the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats in the House that Trump has repeatedly attacked.
“I’ll go to Congress and fight these clowns for you,” Bishop says in one ad, while walking among bobbing clown-like figures with the faces of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other “Squad” lawmakers superimposed on them.
McCready, 36, a small businessman and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, has focused his race on healthcare, education and the pay of North Carolina teachers.
“He (Bishop) is not running against a socialist, he’s running against a capitalist, who’s built a business from scratch,” McCready told CNN. “He’s running against a United States Marine.”
Bishop’s campaign says the most important issues are taxes, the economy and immigration. Trump in his Sunday tweet called Bishop “strong on crime, Borders, your Military and our Vets.” On Monday he blasted McCready as “a far left Sanctuary Cities supporter.”
Polling indicates a tight race, with turnout a key factor. Early voting in some places was interrupted by Hurricane Dorian last week, although it was then extended into the weekend for many affected areas.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Susan Heavey and Chizu Nomiyama)