North Carolina held two odd-year congressional elections yesterday. Both resulted in Republican victories, giving that party a shot of confidence heading into the 2020 campaign.
Business as usual in the 3rd District
In the 3rd District, Republican Greg Murphy easily won with 62 percent of the vote to Democrat Allen Thomas’ 37 percent. Constitution Party candidate Greg Holt and Libertarian Tim Harris each got less than one percent of the vote.
The 3rd District saw a conventional race between conventional candidates. I noted after the late April primary that “it will be hard for a conventional Democrat to prevail in that heavily Republican district” and Allen just did not give voters any reason to alter their normal voting patterns in the 3rd.
Bishop prevails in a contentious race
While the 3rd District race was business-as-usual, the 9th District race was anything but that. It was a redo election of a 2018 race that the State Board of Elections refused to certify due to allegations of ballot harvesting by McCrae Dowless, a political operative in Bladen County paid by the campaign of Republican Mark Harris. Harris had beaten Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes in that election.
McCready ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 2019 do-over race while Republicans nominated NC State Senator Dan Bishop of Mecklenburg County, setting up another race between a conservative Republican and the relatively moderate and well-financed McCready. The result was another close election, with Bishop prevailing over McCready 51-49 percent. Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith each got less than one percent of the vote.
Early voting seemed to indicate an advantage for McCready, especially in the first week when the Republican portion of early voting was much smaller than in had been in 2018. Polling had also shown that Democrats were more interested in the race than were Republicans. My question last week was “whether the enthusiasm gap will result in more votes for McCready or just earlier votes for McCready.” It turns out that it was just earlier votes. While McCready expanded his advantage in early (one-stop) voting from 51 percent in 2018 to 54 percent in 2019, his share of the election-day vote dropped proportionately more.
Interestingly, McCready’s share of absentee-by-mail votes also dropped, from 61 percent in 2018 to 57 percent. I will touch on the significance of that in a moment.
Where ballot harvesting was shut down, McCready lost ground
There was a small shift in voting patterns from 2018 to 2019. While McCready increased his total vote share in Charlotte and the inner suburbs form 2018 to 2019, he lost ground in more rural parts of the district.
The most interesting part of that story is in Bladen and Robeson counties, were Dowless allegedly conducted a ballot harvesting operation in 2018. With that operation shut down for the 2019 election, logic dictates that McCready’s share of the vote in those counties should have increased. Instead, it declined. What would account for that?
The fact is that Dowless never had the only alleged ballot harvesting operation in Bladen and Robeson counties. As I have noted in detail, people paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC (BCIA PAC) with money from the NC Democratic Party had their own absentee ballot operation going on in those counties. There is also evidence that they operated in Cumberland County as well (page 56).
While the Democratic Party has been regularly financing the BCIA PAC over the past several elections, they had not contributed anything to the PAC as of July 9, a sign that the PAC was not going to be active in the 2019 election. The result is that, with all absentee ballot harvesting operations in Bladen, Cumberland, and Robeson counties apparently shut down, McCready lost ground in all three counties. The difference was especially pronounced in Robeson County, were McCready’s share of the total vote dropped from 56 percent in 2018 to 50 percent in 2019.
Bishop’s win both confirms that the 9th District continues to lean Republican and demonstrates what an election in the 9th District free from large-scale ballot harvesting looks like.