The author of HB 2, the infamous North Carolina “bathroom bill” that barred transgender people from single-sex, multi-user facilities in schools and government buildings, won a special election on Tuesday night, becoming the 199th GOP member of Congress.
State Sen. Dan Bishop, who made opposition to Washington liberal icons and support for conservative social values the staple of his campaign, defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 3 percentage points in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which President Trump won by 12 points.
The special election was called after the North Carolina State Elections Board refused to certify the results of the 2018 midterm election after allegations emerged that a Republican operative had allegedly tampered with absentee ballots in a particular county.
In that 2018 race, McCready, a military veteran and businessman, narrowly lost to evangelical minister Mark Harris by 905 votes, winning all but two counties in the district, his showing fueled by strong showings in rural areas with large African-American and Native American populations, as well as in suburban areas around Charlotte and Fayetteville.
But following an appearance by President Trump, who remains popular in the state, Bishop surged to victory, hitting similar percentages as Harris in heavily Republican Union County (where a third of the district’s voters live) but over-performing in rural areas where large numbers of Trump-supporting registered Democrats live.
For instance, McCready barely won in Robeson County after carrying it handily 10 months ago, and Bishop won Richmond and Cumberland counties, which Harris had failed to carry when the initial election was held.
Political pundits had hailed the election as a “bellwether”election (despite the district having a partisan lean that is 8 points more Republican than the nation as a whole) that could indicate whether President Trump was vulnerable in his 2020 re-election bid.
While the President took a much-deserved victory lap, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, were Trump to replicate Bishop’s performance – which significantly underperformed Trump’s margins of victory in all areas of the district — in 2020, he would lose the state of North Carolina.
On the other hand, President Trump could also return to 2016 form if the 2020 Democratic nominee is more polarizing or viewed as more radical than McCready, particularly in socially conservative rural areas.
Perhaps even more distressing to LGBTQ groups was the fact that Bishop’s sponsorship of the controversial HB 2 law — which resulted in a financial backlash for North Carolina after businesses and several sporting events relocated elsewhere or scuttled planned expansions in response — appeared to have no effect on the election’s outcome.
In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, the Human Rights Campaign deployed three paid staffers to help the McCready campaign with their outreach to so-called “Equality Voters” — defined as those for whom a candidate’s positions on LGBTQ issues may influence their voting behavior — and to the LGBTQ community.
The national LGBTQ organization had previously enjoyed success in turning out such voters in 2018, and had hoped to replicate that success on Tuesday.
HRC also recruited over 30 volunteers who hosted 55 volunteer events, knocked on doors across the district, made phone calls on the campaign’s behalf, and sent texts to prospective voters in an effort to help the McCready campaign.
The organization also made a 5-figure digital ad buy highlighting Bishop’s sponsorship of HB 2 and the bill’s detrimental economic impact on North Carolina.
They also pointed to emails, since made public, that he had sent to conservative activists comparing allowing religious objectors to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals to Oskar Schindler’s efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust, as well as his ties to the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom.