CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dan Bishop, a Republican state senator, scored a narrow victory on Tuesday in a special House election in North Carolina that demonstrated President Trump’s appeal with his political base but also highlighted his party’s deepening unpopularity with suburban voters.
Mr. Bishop defeated Dan McCready, a moderate Democrat, one day after Mr. Trump made a full-throated plea for support for the Republican at a rally on the conservative, eastern end of a Charlotte-to-Fayetteville district, which the president carried by nearly 12 points in 2016.
With most votes counted on Tuesday night, Mr. Bishop was ahead by about two percentage points, according to The Associated Press.
As Mr. Trump heads into a re-election year, the closeness of the outcome in a district that hasn’t been held by a Democrat since the 1960s confirmed once more that he energizes Democrats and some independents to fight against him just as much as he inspires Republicans to fight for him. In 2018, Democratic candidates flipped several G.O.P.-held House seats in districts that Mr. Trump had won, a sign of distaste among moderate and suburban voters who reluctantly backed him in 2016.
For Democrats looking ahead to 2020, those midterm results and Mr. Bishop’s slim margin in a conservative seat offer more evidence that Mr. Trump could face trouble in states such as North Carolina, which is Republican-leaning but filled with the sort of college-educated voters who have grown uneasy with the president.
As even some Republican pollsters and officials acknowledge, Mr. Trump — who enjoys high approval ratings with Republicans, but slipping ratings with voters overall in some recent polls — needs to improve his standing with suburban voters, particularly women. He carried North Carolina by 3.6 percentage points in 2016.
In Washington, Mr. Bishop’s victory is unlikely to be seen among Republicans as improving their chances of winning the House back in 2020. Indeed, Mr. Bishop’s win came only after outside Republican groups poured over $5 million into the district. Republican strategists said they do not see a Bishop win as slowing the steady trickle of G.O.P. lawmakers who are retiring rather than seeking re-election with an unpopular president on top of the ticket.
The House district, which extends from Charlotte through a number of exurban and rural counties to the east, has not been represented by a Democrat since the early 1960s. But in the midterms of 2018, Mr. McCready, surfing the national anti-Trump mood, ran a close race, losing by 905 votes to the Republican candidate at the time, Mark Harris.
Dan McCready, a Democrat, ran seeking to flip control of the longtime Republican-held Ninth Congressional District.CreditLogan R. Cyrus for The New York Times
Then came one of the more bizarre plot twists in recent American politics: The state elections board threw out the entire election and ordered a new one after evidence surfaced that Mr. Harris’s campaign had funded an illegal vote-harvesting scheme in rural Bladen County.
Mr. McCready, 36, a businessman, decided to keep running, and had been on the campaign trail for 27 straight months. A centrist, he focused on the issue of health care affordability and criticized Mr. Bishop for opposing the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Bishop, 55, a Charlotte lawyer, is perhaps best known statewide for sponsoring the so-called bathroom bill that required transgender people to use restrooms that corresponded with the gender on their birth certificate. He boasted of his endorsement from the National Rifle Association, and he repeatedly attacked Mr. McCready by lumping him with the more left-leaning elements of the Democratic Party.
Mr. Trump tweeted his endorsement for Mr. Bishop and sent out a fund-raising email on his behalf. In July, Mr. Bishop spoke at Mr. Trump’s rally in Greenville, N.C., in which the crowd responded to the president’s attacks on Representative Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born Democrat, with chants of “send her back!”
The election was effectively the last campaign of the 2018 season, and what alarmed national Republicans was how ominously it recalled the midterm elections: As with so many races last year, a centrist Democrat raised significantly more money than the Republican candidate. And it happened in a historically conservative district that is now tilting toward the political center because of the suburban drift away from the G.O.P.
Sept. 10, 2019
At Olde Providence Elementary School in Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon, voters moved in and out of their polling place at a steady trickle, braving 93-degree heat and a gauntlet of volunteers for local campaigns who lined the sidewalk outside.
The elementary school is surrounded by a relatively prosperous clutch of neighborhoods in South Charlotte — exactly the kind of place where Mr. McCready needed to rack up votes if he was to score an upset.
Lisa Rockholt, 58, a registered nurse, said she voted for Mr. McCready. She said she typically voted for both Republicans and Democrats, but was fed up with all the available options in the last presidential election, and wrote in her boyfriend’s name.
Ms. Rockholt said she disagreed with Mr. Bishop’s opposition to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in this state. As an R.N., she said, she has seen the toll that a lack of insurance can take on North Carolinians. And she liked Mr. McCready’s talk about keeping down the price of prescription drugs.
Stephanie Dillon exited the polling place with her seven-week-old son, Wells, in a stroller. She considers herself a political independent and she recalled voting for Mitt Romney in a previous presidential election.
Ms. Dillon, 34, represented a kind of nightmare-scenario voter for Mr. Bishop and Mr. Trump. Her conservatism is of the fiscal and business-friendly variety. She works in human resources, though she is on maternity leave now, and has seen the pressures that businesses must overcome to survive. But this time around, she voted for Mr. McCready.
She is not an immigration hard-liner (Mr. Bishop has referred to himself as “pro-wall”) and she has very few kind things to say about President Trump. “The whole kind of sexist persona totally turns me off,” she said, adding, “Why is he spending his time tweeting to celebrities?”
Caroline Penland, 44, a Republican, said she voted for Mr. Bishop. She is a reliable Republican voter, and a Christian who opposes abortion and favors “keeping God in schools.” She also favors some gun control, after being deeply affected by a 2012 shooting that occurred at the high school from which she graduated.
But now, she said, was not a time to stray from the Republican fold. She voted for Mr. Trump and would do so again. “From an economical standpoint he’s doing really well,” she said.
“First of all, he’s in my party. And I’m going to stick to my party right now,” Ms. Penland said of Mr. Bishop.
Ms. Penland, who works in marketing, also said that Mr. Bishop’s incessant ads targeting Mr. McCready stuck with her. She said her children were even referring to Mr. McCready as “McGreedy,” the epithet used against him in some attack ads.
In the late afternoon, Mr. Bishop arrived at an elementary school in a suburb southeast of Charlotte, wearing a Carolina-blue dress shirt and slacks. A group of reporters surrounded him and he reiterated his vision, which is squarely pro-Trump.
“The principles I stand for are timeless,” he said. “I think one problem we have is too many politicians shape-shift, and mold themselves to what they think people will want to hear and I don’t do that.”
Indeed, the fliers his supporters handed out painted a stark contrast between Mr. Bishop (“The Right Dan”) and Mr. McCready (“The Wrong Dan”), noting Mr. Bishop’s support for Mr. Trump’s border wall, his N.R.A. endorsement, his anti-abortion stance and his endorsement from Mr. Trump.
Mr. Bishop criticized the Democratic Party for a leftward lurch, and said that his opponent, who considers himself a moderate, has received funding from “the farthest-left sources of money in the country.”
The race, he said, was “a clear clash of different visions.”
“I represent a Trump vision of America. I join in President Trump’s vision of America of a booming economy and taxes that are lower and jobs that are more plentiful and border security and the idea of American exceptional continuing into the indefinite future.”
Mr. Bishop shook a few hands of voters as they made their way in to the polls, then huddled for an extended period of time with one man in shorts and a ball cap. After the man went inside, Mr. Bishop spoke with William Brawley, a former state representative who was defeated in 2018, and was handing out pro-Bishop fliers.
“What was his beef?” Mr. Brawley said of the man in the cap.
“Doesn’t like Donald Trump,” Mr. Bishop replied.
Sept. 10, 2019
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