The failure of the Democrats to win an upset in a North Carolina
special congressional election, establishment media reports
notwithstanding, combined with still another demonstration of
Donald Trump’s ability to rouse his base in that same contest,
must be giving hitherto optimistic savvy Democratic activists
and strategists some pause in their expectations for 2020.
Special elections have to be regarded with caution for the
signals they might display, but in the last cycle, the 2018
midterms, these contests were often a demographic bellwether
of what became a “blue wave” in U.S. house races.
NC-9 turned out to be a narrow but clear win for Republicans,
winning the race by 4000 votes in spite of having a well-known,
well-financed, attractive and strong Democratic nominee in the
race. The GOP nominee was not as well-known, under-financed
until the very end, and he entered the race quite late. Yes, the
district was historically Republican (Mr. Trump carried it by 12
points in 2016). but the Republican nominee only won by 900
votes in 2018 --- and that election was thrown out because of
As it was, the Republican might have lost if the president and
the national Republican Party had not stepped in during the
campaign’s closing days, but the fact is that they did step in,
and were not only successful, but improved on the GOP
performance from 2018.
In the other special election, NC-3, the Republican won, as
expected, in a landslide.
As 10 of the 19 remaining Democratic “major” presidential
candidates walk on the stage for their third debate, Democratic
voters are faced with a field in which their three frontrunners in
the polls are each over 70 and strongly represent one of the two
factions of a divided party.
If North Carolina, or Georgia (two states targeted by Democrats to
take away from the GOP in 2020) had Senator Bernie Sanders or
Senator Elizabeth Warren at the top of their ticket next year, the
results in NC-9 signal their prospects to pick up these two
Southern states, as well as defeat incumbent GOP Senator Thom
Tillis, would seem reduced. With the more moderate Joe Biden on
the ticket, their prospects would seem better, but the Democrat in
NC-9 was even more moderate than Biden, and he was defeated
by considerably more votes than when he ran in 2018.
On the other hand, we are speaking here of traditional Republican
territory. The victories in the two special North Carolina elections,
while good news for the president and his party, don’t tell us much
about the rest of the U.S., particularly the key midwestern states
that decided the 2016 election.
Perhaps the greatest cause for unease among Democrats now is the
recent demonstration in North Carolina and elsewhere of the
president’s continuing strong support from his party base, and his
ability to bring his voters to the polls. Others have pointed out that
NC-9 was the last chapter of the 2018 mid-terms. Coming a year
later, and with the Democrats ideologically more divided than they
were in 2018, the special election speaks most broadly of a
time-tested political reality --- that each cycle has its own particular
voter landscape, and will likely reflect the new circumstances that
even only two years can produce.
Having only one debate session for the third Democratic debate,
might be only a brief respite. An 11th candidate has now qualified
for the fourth debate (and 1 or 2 more are close to qualifying), so
the prospects of two debate sessions again is ahead.
Some might suggest the sense of division is symbolic of the
Democrats’ greatest challenge in 2020. There is no need for them
to panic --- so much can happen in 13 months and Mr. Trump has
his own potential problems --- but.....
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.