Trump works to hold GOP House seat
Published 11:24 AM EDT Sep 10, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – President Donald Trump and his backers say today’s special election in North Carolina won’t say much about his own chances to win this pivotal state next year – but they sure are making a big push anyway.
Traveling to the state on election eve to support Republican candidate Dan Bishop in a U.S. House race, Trump told supporters Monday night that a favorable result would help him defeat “the radical Democrats who want to dismantle, demolish, and destroy everything that you gain.”
The 2020 election, he added, is “just as important, because they’ll try and take it away.”
The Republican president, who has repeatedly tweeted about the race, posted an all-caps alert early Tuesday: “NORTH CAROLINA, VOTE FOR DAN BISHOP TODAY. WE NEED HIM BADLY IN WASHINGTON!”
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both stumped in North Carolina on Monday, and the national Republican Party has made a big effort to help Bishop in a race that will be seen as a gauge of Trump’s political strength in a key state.
While Trump carried North Carolina’s Ninth congressional district by nearly 12 points in 2016, polls indicate a toss-up race between Bishop and Democratic candidate Dan McCready.
State officials scheduled the special election after nullifying the results of the 2018 contest, citing evidence of election fraud designed to benefit the Republican candidate who narrowly defeated McCready.
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Trump supporters who cheered his speech at a convention center in Fayetteville said a loss in Tuesday’s special election wouldn’t be great, but also wouldn’t mean much to the president in 2020.
“It might hurt just a little bit, but it ain’t nothing he can’t overcome,” said Larry Benton, 62, a disabled pipe fitter from Laurel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina Republicans said Trump remains in good shape here because of the state’s economy. Lee Honeycutt, 43, an insurance broker from Dunn. N.C., also said Trump has a certain “charisma” that helps him in North Carolina.
“There’s something different about him than any politician I’ve ever seen,” Honeycutt said. “He’s unique.”
Supporters cited Trump’s tax cuts, reductions of government regulations, and efforts to stop illegal immigration that include a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. They hailed his support for the military, an important issue in a state with a heavy defense presence.
North Carolina Democrats said Trump’s toxic personality, combined with harsh health care and immigration policies, make him vulnerable in their state and elsewhere. They said his administration is taking away defense money to build his wall, and that his trade war with China is hurting American farmers.
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A McCready win Tuesday “would be the canary in the coal mine for President Trump and every North Carolina Republican who’s meekly gone along with him,” said Robert Howard, a spokesman for the state’s Democratic Party.
It would, he added, “build on the momentum Democrats are already feeling across the state and country.”
McCready, who has embraced more of a bipartisan theme during his campaign, tweeted Tuesday: “Vote for our healthcare, our schools, our future!”
Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the special election is important, but will have little or no impact on what happens in November of 2020.
“At that time,” he said, “it will be the president and his record up against a known Democratic candidate. It will be a binary choice.”
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Three years ago, Trump secured his Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton by carrying three northern states dominated by Democrats in previous elections: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Winning North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes also proved pivotal. Trump defeated Clinton by less than four percentage points, even as Democrat Roy Cooper won a close governor’s race.
The South has long been the Republican base in presidential politics, but North Carolina has been more contested than many of its neighbors. Democrat Barack Obama actually carried the state, barely, in his 2008 race against John McCain, and came within two percentage points of Mitt Romney four years later.
North Carolina also plays another unique role in the 2020 campaign: Trump and the Republicans are holding their nominating convention in Charlotte.
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Democrats said they will make a big 2020 push of their own in North Carolina, starting with Tuesday’s special congressional election.
There is also another House race in North Carolina on Tuesday, one to fill the seat by the late Rep. Walter Jones, who died in February. The Republican candidate is more of a favorite in that contest.
At the rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina supporters said Trump remains in good shape because of the economy. They said Trump’s outspokenness sometimes hurts him, but they also like him because he is not a “traditional politician,” and they especially like his attacks on Democrats and other opponents.
“He could tweet a little bit less, probably,” said Angie Greene, 46, a social worker who lives in Cerro Gordo, N.C. “But I like to see what’s on his mind.”
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Tracie Nance, 50, a caretaker from Whiteville, N.C., said of Trump: “He’s a fighter – He’ll fight back.”
Fayetteville resident Tabitha Weise, 63, a volunteer with a ministry center, said many North Carolina residents support Trump, but don’t like to talk about it because they’ll be criticized by their anti-Trump neighbors.
“They keep that on the down low,” she said.