North Carolina will see not one, but two special congressional elections next week – two out of the three scheduled nationally for the whole year.
Special elections for North Carolina’s 3rd and 9th Congressional Districts will be held next Tuesday, Sept. 10. The results for the elections, which could potentially see low turnout, may be an indication of where North Carolina is heading politically going into the 2020 election.
Why are the special elections happening? Who is running?
The election in the 3rd District on the coast is being held to fill a vacancy left by the late Walter Jones, following his death in February. The candidates running to take his place are Dr. Greg Murphy, a Republican representative in the N.C. General Assembly, and Allen Thomas, the Democratic former mayor of Greenville.
Murphy aligns himself with President Donald Trump and holds many conventional conservative stances, such as the preference for limited government. Thomas’ website describes him as a gun owner that wants to find effective solutions to violence and someone ready to take on insurance companies in order to provide affordable healthcare.
The election in the 9th District, which includes Charlotte, is being held under more dramatic circumstances. The N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE) would not certify the results of the 2018 election after allegations of electoral fraud arose in then-Republican candidate Mark Harris' campaign. The candidates running now are Dan Bishop, a Republican state senator, and Dan McCready, a Democratic entrepreneur and former Marine Corps captain.
The unofficial vote tally after the 2018 election left McCready trailing Harris by 905 votes, and McCready conceded to Harris. After the NCSBE hearings in February, the board found that around 1,000 absentee ballots were improperly collected, and the board voted unanimously to call a special election.
McCready ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, while Harris chose not to run again.
Bishop is pro-Trump – he supports the president's border wall project, has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association and according to his website, “will fight extremist Democrats’ to stop infanticide and late-term abortion on demand.”
Bishop also sponsored North Carolina's controversial bathroom bill, HB2, in 2016.
McCready started a solar energy business after graduating from Harvard Business School, and is running on a platform of putting America before political parties.
“I believe that no one should go to Washington as a Democrat first or a Republican first, they should go as Americans first,” McCready said.
The Daily Tar Heel reached out to Bishop, but he did not respond.
Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at Catawba College, said in an email that McCready is using traditional Democratic campaign strategies while Bishop is closely aligning himself with the president and “using Nancy Pelosi, AOC and ‘the squad’ as attack mechanisms in his campaign.”
What’s so special about the special elections?
Both McCready and Bitzer said they expect voter turnout in the special elections to be low.
“I think in a special election, where turnout is lower, many people don’t even know that there is an election," McCready said. "It’s all that more important to build those face-to-face connections.”
The special elections are important, Bitzer said, not just to fill the vacant House seats, but to “take a temperature of the voters and how the national dynamics may be at play.”
“It’s hard to read too much into these races and their ultimate outcomes, because they are very different elections than regularly scheduled elections, but some sense of voter enthusiasm, based on party affiliation, may give a ‘canary in the coal mine’ sense of things on the ground,” he said.
Bitzer also said if one of the two longtime red districts were to flip to blue, it would be the 9th due to the alleged close nature of last year's election and the "high-level of intensity on this particular district.”
How and when to vote
Election day is Tuesday, Sept. 10, but early voting is happening now until Friday, Sept. 6. An NCSBE release on Sunday urged voters to consider the weather when planning to vote.
“We encourage everyone eligible to vote in the September contests to add a visit to an early voting site to your hurricane preparation checklist and cast their ballot while conditions are safe,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections.
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