Republican North Carolina state Sen. Dan Bishop held a narrow lead in a pivotal special U.S. House election that will not only decide the winner of a long-vacant House seat but could signal how President Trump will perform in the 2020 presidential election.
With 79 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, Bishop led Democrat Dan McCready by just under 2,500 votes in the race to represent the GOP-leaning 9th Congressional District.
Bishop was hoping a pair of visits to the district Monday by both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would boost him to victory.
Should Bishop defeat McCready, it would enable Trump to assert that he pushed Bishop over the top. If McCready prevails or Bishop wins by a whisker despite Trump’s broad support in the Republican Party, it might suggest GOP erosion and raise questions about Trump’s and his party’s viability for 2020.
Trump projected confidence Tuesday evening after Republican Greg Murphy was projected to soundly defeat Democrat Allen Thomas in a separate special election in the coastal 3rd District to succeed the late Rep. Walter Jones Jr.
“One down, one to go,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
State officials ordered the unusual 9th Congressional District special election earlier this year, invalidating a win by GOP candidate Mark Harris over McCready in the 2018 midterms after uncovering ballot fraud efforts.
Some analysts have said the fraud scandal could harm Bishop’s prospects, even though he wasn’t involved in the alleged ballot fraud in last year’s race. That could undermine any attempts to draw larger lessons from Tuesday’s contest.
On the eve of the election, Trump and Pence threw their full-throated support behind Bishop — and emphasized the national implications of the contest.
“To stop the far-left, you must vote in tomorrow’s special election,” Trump told attendees at a fiery rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Monday night.
The president then slammed McCready as a dangerous proponent of “sanctuary cities” and rolling back gun rights.
“Just recently, Mecklenburg County set free an illegal alien charged with first-degree rape and crimes against a child,” Trump said, his voice rising. “Support for sanctuary cities is disloyalty to American cities — and McCready wants sanctuary cities, with all of their protections for people who are serious criminals. Tomorrow is your chance to send a clear message to the America-hating left.”
Meanwhile, McCready, a former Marine turned financier of solar energy projects, was banking on the district’s suburban moderates to carry him over the top.
The House district stretches east from the prosperous Charlotte suburbs into rural areas hugging the South Carolina border.
The district has been held by the GOP since 1963. In 2016, Trump won the district by 11 percentage points.
A new balloting controversy surfaced during the day when North Carolina election officials did not act on a request by the state Republican Party to extend hours at a single precinct.
The state GOP asked that the voting site stay open an extra hour and 45 minutes because they said some 9th Congressional District voters were showing up at the old voting location in Union County, a Republican-heavy area east of Charlotte.
The State Board of Elections met and discussed the GOP request, but took no action.
However, by a 5-0 vote of the state board, one polling site in Mecklenberg County was kept open 25 minutes past the 7:30 p.m. ET closing time due to a reported gas leak.
Before leaving Washington for the rally on Monday, Trump dismissed questions of whether a poor result for the Republican candidate would serve as a warning sign for 2020.
“No, I don’t see it as a bellwether,” Trump said.
The 3rd District, where Murphy won easily early in the night, was less closely watched because it was strongly expected to stay Republican-controlled. Still, Republicans from the president on down sounded the victory drums.
“Congratulations to Dr. Greg Murphy on his decisive victory tonight in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement.
“Dr. Murphy is a selfless servant who is dedicated to conservative values,” Emmer continued. “Today, North Carolinians rejected the socialist agenda of the Democrats and voted for freedom. I look forward to working with a consistent conservative like Dr. Murphy in Congress.”
The district extends from the Virginia border and Outer Banks to the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, and inland to Greenville. Trump won the district vote comfortably in 2016, and Murphy said at a Trump rally that he would have the “president’s back” if elected.
Thomas is a former Greenville mayor who questioned Murphy’s “blind loyalty” to Trump.
Fox News’ David Lewkowictz and The Associated Press contributing to this report.