News Tip: NC’s Special Election an Early Test of 2020 Landscape, Expert Says

Sanford School’s Asher Hildebrand says ‘Republicans absolutely need to defend’ congressional seat

Voters in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District will go to the polls Tuesday in a special election, called after state officials found evidence of ballot fraud in the 2018 election. President Trump is expected to stump Monday in Fayetteville for Republican candidate Dan Bishop, who faces Democrat Dan McCready.

“Given everything we have witnessed in this district over the past two years, this is an atypical race even by special election standards,” says Asher Hildebrand, associate professor of the practice at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

“But that hasn’t stopped the national parties from staking a lot -- in money, strategy and morale -- on its outcome. That’s because they see the race as the first real test of whether the formula that propelled Democrats to a House majority in 2018 remains effective as we look ahead to 2020.”

“Will the suburban revolt against President Trump keep the door open for a Democratic candidate to claim a solidly Republican seat campaigning on ‘bread and butter’ issues? Or will the Trump coalition make a stand for a Republican candidate who has sought to turn the race into a contest between the president and Nancy Pelosi?”

“With McCready and Bishop effectively tied in the polls and more ‘x-factors’ yet to come --including looming visits by Trump and other senior Republicans -- we won’t know which prediction holds until the votes are counted.” 

“But one thing is clear already: The fact that Republicans have had to pull out the stops to defend a seat that Trump carried by double digits says a lot about how the battleground has shifted since 2016. Ultimately, Democrats don’t need to pick up this district to protect their House majority, but Republicans absolutely need to defend it, and many seats like it, if they have any hope of regaining theirs. And if you’re a Democratic leader, that’s a good place to be.”

“Finally, let’s not forget that there is also a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District on Tuesday to replace the late, iconoclastic Republican Rep. Walter Jones. While few national Democrats view this seat as within reach, it will still be an interesting test of how significantly a well-known and well-liked Democrat can out-perform Trump in a deep-red district.”

Asher Hildebrand, associate professor of the practice of public policy, served for nearly 15 years in Congress and on political campaigns, including as chief of staff to U.S. Representative David Price (D-NC) and as director of policy and research for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in North Carolina. 

For additional comment, contact Asher Hildebrand at:

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