By Jim Ellis
Sept. 12, 2019 — Republican special election candidates Greg Murphy and Dan Bishop won their respective congressional campaigns Tuesday night in different parts of North Carolina.Murphy, a state representative from Greenville, was an easy winner in the 3rd District, as expected. He recorded a 62-37 percent win over former Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas (D) in taking 16 of the district’s 17 counties and falling in Hyde County by just 43 votes. Rep-Elect Murphy now replaces the late congressman, Walter Jones (R-Farmville), who passed away in February.
For the special election, 113,607 individuals cast their ballots, some 40 percent fewer than the number voting in the 2018 regular election even though Rep. Jones was unopposed. In the presidential election year of 2016, congressional race turnout exceeded 323,000 voters.The hotly contested election occurred to the southwest in the 9th District, the seat left vacant all year because the 2018 result was never certified because of voter fraud allegations in Bladen County. Today, the district finally has a new representative. Bishop, a state senator from Charlotte, slipped past Democratic businessman Dan McCready despite being outspent $5 million to $2 million — though the outside group spending, particularly from the National Republican Congressional Committee, added at least another $2 million to the Bishop support effort.
The final unofficial totals found Sen. Bishop taking 96,081 votes to McCready’s 92,144 (50.7 – 48.7 percent), a margin of 3,937 ballots. The unofficial turnout figure was 189,363 voters, very strong for a special election and almost 80,000 more than the number of people voting in District 3. In the disputed 2018 election, more than 282,000 people voted in the regular midterm meaning the drop off rate from midterm to special was 33 percent.
Both Bishop and McCready won four of the district’s eight counties. In the Mecklenburg County portion, McCready, as expected, carried it with over 55 percent of the vote. This was countered by Sen. Bishop winning Republican Union County with a 21-point margin, more than off-setting his Mecklenburg deficit. In the more rural counties, both Democratic and Republican, Sen. Bishop outperformed projections, which added to his small margin of victory.
Democrats are arguing that this result is a major under-performance for the Republicans even though Bishop won the seat. They cite President Trump’s 11-point, 54-43 percent, victory in 2016 as evidence that Bishop should have won with a greater spread. It appears, however, that the president’s number is the outlier and not this congressional race.
Former Rep. Bob Pittenger (R), who would lose the 2018 Republican primary to Harris, was re-elected in 2016 with a 58-42 percent margin, but against a candidate who didn’t wage a campaign. Usually, with such a presidential number, an incumbent of the same party in a virtually uncontested campaign should finish well into the 60s if not 70 percent.
In the 2018 election, though disputed, the contest between McCready and Republican Mark Harris was a virtual tie. Additionally, in the two campaigns, McCready raised and spent a combined $11.6 million just from his own committee to educate the voters about himself and his political positions. Adding the alleged malfeasance from Harris in the midterm, which cast aspersions upon the local Republican Party, McCready entered the special election campaign with a great many assets in his corner, making this a highly competitive contest from the outset.
With the two special elections now completed, the House has all 435 members for the first time in this Congress, but that will last just a matter of days until Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) resigns before the end of this month. The House partisan division is now 235 Democrats, 199 Republicans, and 1 Independent. With the two North Carolina seats filled, 20 open seats remain for the 2020 election cycle.