Dan Bishop easily won yesterday’s Republican primary, setting up a general election contest with Democrat Dan McCready. Other candidates in the general elections are Libertarian Jeff Scott and Loran Smith of the Green Party.
Bishop earned over 47 percent of the vote in a 10-candidate field, well over the 30 percent required to avoid a second (runoff) primary. This is good for Bishop for a couple of reasons. Frist, it avoids the consequences of a two-candidate intra party scrum, which tend to be more divisive and drain the eventual winner of resources and the goodwill of some potential supports.
Second, it gives him more time to raise funds and get his general election campaign in full gear. Had there been a second primary, Bishop would have had only had two months (from September 11 to November 5) to conduct his general election campaign. He now has nearly twice that amount of time (about four months, from May 15 to September 10) to campaign.
Those additional seven weeks will be crucial since he starts well behind McCready in name ID and money. McCready came within 905 votes of defeating Republican nominee Mark Harris last fall. Harris’ victory was voided in a unanimous vote of the state Board of Elections over allegations that McCrae Dowless has conducted an illegal ballot harvesting scheme on Harris’ behalf. McCready outspend Harris by 3-to-1 last fall and will likely have large money advantage again in his race against Bishop.
McCready has also shown political instincts that serve him well in a more conservative part of North Carolina, such as distancing himself from the more left-wing elements of his party. For example, he has pledged not to support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The New York Times summarized McCready’s strategy as “Renounce Nancy Pelosi, Ignore Donald Trump”. That instinct was on full display when he effectively condemned U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN over her alleged anti-Semitic remarks by having his campaign return a $2,000 donation from her campaign.
McCready will have to continue that balancing act of appealing to more moderate conservative voters in the district while keeping his base and donors happy. To that end he has generally avoided taking strong positions on issues in his public appearances. The easiest way to continue to keep that balance is to attack Bishop as an extremist. So it is hardly surprising that he came out swinging in a fundraising tweet as soon as is was clear that Bishop was going to be his opponent.
National media have noted Bishop’s primary win with headlines like “‘Bathroom bill’ author wins GOP nomination in North Carolina redo race” and “North Carolina ‘bathroom bill’ sponsor wins GOP redo of tainted election.” While Bishop has stated “I think people are ready to move on,” from the fallout of that bill, it will be the gift that keeps on giving to the McCready campaign’s fundraising. However, while HB2 was unpopular statewide, it is unlikely to be an unadulterated winner for McCready in most of the district, which tends to be conservative.
For his part, Bishop will have to work hard to paint a vote for Dan McCready as a vote for liberals in Washington. He did just that with one of his campaign’s first video ads, aired during the primary, which sought to tie McCready to national Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.
Given McCready’s advantages, I would expect him to be well ahead of Bishop in early polling. However, I also expect Bishop to close much of that gap over the next few months. This being an off-year election, turnout operations by the campaigns and their supporters will be even more important than they usually are.
With both candidates, by inclination or strategic need, wanting to keep the spotlight on their opponent, we can expect the 9th District redo election to particularly nasty.