Special elections are special for a reason – NC-09 featured a lot of special circumstances; a well recruited, well respected Democrat — the DCCC’s “perfect” candidate – who had also been running for the seat for more than two years, a looming hurricane set to hit the state less than a week before the election, and accusations of a scandal that threw the entire process into chaos for months. All signs pointed to the national media’s preferred narrative of a Democratic upset one year before the President’s re-election bid.
So let’s look at what actually happened last night. Buoyed by the President and the Vice President’s visit to the district on Monday, the Election Day vote accounted for 57% of the overall share of the vote; while the Early and Absentee vote accounted for 43%. For historical context in 2018, those statistics were almost flipped with 44 % of the vote coming in on Election Day while 56% came from AB/EV. Trailing Dan McCready by 9% from Absentee and Early ballots, Dan Bishop earned over 11,000 more votes on Election Day than did Dan McCready, a margin of 10.5%. What we witnessed on election night was a Republican surge in the ninth district in North Carolina and the President deserves credit for making that happen. Of course, the campaign itself, RNC, the NRCC, the NCGOP, and other conservative allies like the Congressional Leadership Fund deserve huge credit for making the decision to invest in this race and refusing to buy into the liberal narrative that this seat was lost.
These decisions were guided all along by the RNC Voter Scores from TargetPoint which in the end correctly predicted the outcome of Tuesday’s special election in NC-09. With just over 189,000 ballots counted Dan Bishop defeated Dan McCready by 2 points. Driven by President Trump’s impact on the race, the GOP Surge Model predicted the final margin within 0.81% points. The Voter Scores correctly predicted Bishop’s vote within 0.71% and McCready’s within 0.11% points. Without this late GOP surge we believe turnout would have been about 161,000 total votes and that Dan Bishop would have lost this race by the narrowest of margins.
Instead, Dan Bishop outperformed fellow 2018 Republican candidate Mark Harris in 7 out of 8 counties in the 9th district. Most notably, we saw a 14-point swing from 2018 to tonight’s special in the favor of Dan Bishop in Robeson County. As a result, Dan McCready failed to match his share of the vote in all but three counties of the district: Mecklenburg, Scotland, and Union. Because McCready failed to re-capture the same rural voters who nearly put him over the top in 2018, McCready lost by a wider margin, nearly 2% worse this time around.
There was a lot of hand wringing tonight about what this special election portends for 2020. While many people re-litigated whether President Trump was a lift or drag on the ticket, his visit to the eastern portion of the district driven by data and on-the-ground intelligence proved to be exactly the right decision. As a result, Dan Bishop came within at least 2% of President Trump’s vote share in 6/8 counties: Anson, Bladen, Cumberland, Richmond, Robeson & Scotland. National pundits pointed to Mecklenburg and Union County as the decisive parts of the district – but the fundamentals of the race roughly held within those two counties. Despite what spin we may hear Wednesday about the outcome of Tuesday’s election, there is no doubt that the GOP scored a big victory that was made possible mostly through a lot of hard work from a lot of talented people, but also guided by smart, prescriptive use of data.