The NC-9 special election and racial politics

Yesterday, I discussed the special congressional election in North Carolina’s Ninth District. Bolstered by a rally held by President Trump the day before the election, Republican Dan Bishop won the race. However, because his margin of victory — 2 percentage points — was well below the norm in this Republican district, some in the mainstream media are viewing the election as a good sign for Democrats. Here’s the Washington Post’s version of that song.

I noted, though, that the Democratic candidate in the NC-9 election, Dan McCready, is an attractive, young ex-Marine who ran as a centrist, or tried to. Any suggestion that his comparatively good showing is a harbinger of future Democratic successes should be tempered by this candidate’s strengths, which are not widely distributed among Democratic pols.

Today, I want to highlight a few additional aspects of this race. One is that Dan Bishop was the sponsor of North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which was widely condemned by the the LBGT community, liberals generally, and the mainstream media.

I’m not sure how this cuts. One might argue that a candidate not associated with a measure this controversial would have fared better than Bishop, so that the narrowness of his margin wasn’t due to declining popularity of the GOP in his district. But it might be the case that social conservatism plays well in this district and that Bishop’s position on bathroom usage helped him.

What we know is that, although Bishop didn’t perform up to the normal GOP level in this district, he ran slightly better than the Republican who won the seat in 2018 but was disqualified when a judge found his campaign used illegal tactics. I infer that Bishop’s position on bathrooms may have helped him slightly, perhaps because of the merits of that position and/or perhaps because it showed him to be a fighter.

Then again, Bishop might have outperformed the 2018 GOP candidate because the Democratic wave of that year has receded.

A more important potential takeaway relates to minority voters in the Ninth District. David Catron says that McCready, the Democrat, performed worse than “expected” in every county but one, and that some of those counties are dominated by minority voters:

The most unnerving example, from the Democratic perspective, is rural Robeson County. The ethnic makeup of this county is as follows: Native American (38.6%), White (25.7%), Black (24%), Hispanic (8.52%), Two or More Races (2.15%), Asian (0.66%), Other (0.275%). On Tuesday the Democrat received a fraction of the votes he received in 2018, running for the same seat. Ryan Matsumoto of Inside Elections provides the gory details: “McCready won Robeson County by only 1.11 points, a MASSIVE decrease from his 15.31 point margin last November.” In 2012, Obama carried Robeson by 17 points.

Robeson County is something of an anomaly because of its extremely high Native American population. According to the Washington Post, the Lumbee Indians in this jurisdiction are socially conservative and Bishop also won their votes because, as a state legislator, he promoted land grants to the tribe.

However, Bishop also did well in Cumberland County, where the Indian population is small:

Nearly 60 percent of Cumberland County’s approximately 333,000 residents are Black, Hispanic, or a member of some other minority group. McCready won it in 2018. Dan Bishop won Cumberland on Tuesday.

Robeson County is mostly rural, but Cumberland County is predominantly urban. Bishop’s performance in these two counties and several others suggests that, in the Trump economy, minority group voters, including blacks, may be more inclined than before to vote Republican now.

As I suggested here, black voters may be moving towards the center, even as Democrats lurch to the left.

When the election results are analyzed more carefully, we may find that Bishop won because his ability to peel off minority voters, including blacks, helped offset his opponent’s strong showing in the affluent white areas of Mecklenburg County which, according to Catron, are the only places where the Democrat improved on his 2018 performance.

Perhaps we’ll see a repeat of this phenomenon in 2020, including the presidential race.

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