GOP narrowly averts defeat in NC special election

North Carolina 9th district Republican congressional candidate Dan Bishop celebrates his victory in Monroe, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Conservative Republican Dan Bishop won a special election for an open House seat in North Carolina, averting a demoralizing Democratic capture of a district the GOP has held for nearly six decades. But his narrow victory didn’t erase questions about whether President Donald Trump and his party’s congressional candidates face troubling headwinds approaching 2020.

Bishop, a state senator best known for a North Carolina law dictating which public bathrooms transgender people can use, defeated centrist Democrat Dan McCready on Tuesday. Bishop tied himself tightly to Trump, who staged an election eve rally for him in the district, and Tuesday’s voting seemed no less than a referendum on the Republican president, who quickly took credit for the triumph.

“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night,” Trump tweeted. No polling has emerged publicly that showed Bishop with a deficit of that magnitude. Operatives from both parties and analysts had long said the race was too close to call.

The results in the district underscored the rural-urban split between the parties, with Bishop, 55, running up substantial numbers in outlying areas and McCready eroding GOP advantages in suburban areas. McCready’s moderate profile resembled that of many Democrats who won in Republican-leaning districts in the 2018 midterms and, even with the loss on Tuesday, showed the durability of that approach.

Bishop’s margin — a little more than 2 percentage points — was far less than the 11 percentage points by which Trump captured the district in 2016. And it was only slightly greater than when then-GOP candidate Mark Harris seemed to win the seat over McCready, 36, last year — before those results were annulled after evidence of vote tampering surfaced and a new election was ordered.

Republicans have held the seat since 1963, and its loss would have been a worrisome preface to the party’s presidential and congressional campaigns next year.

“I think it means Trump is going to get a second term, and Republicans will retake the majority,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in an interview with The Associated Press. Many analysts think a GOP takeover will be difficult.

Special elections generally attract such low turnout that their results aren’t predictive of future general elections. Even so, the narrow margin in the GOP-tilted district suggested that Democrats’ 2018 string of victories in suburban districts in red states including Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas could persist next year.

Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who runs House Democrats’ political committee, said the close race showed her party is “pushing further into Republican strongholds” and was in a “commanding position” to do well next year.

Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, said the narrow margin suggests that the country’s other closely divided swing districts “could be still up for grabs.”

There is almost no pathway to Republicans regaining House control next year unless they avoid losing more suburban districts and win back some they lost last year.

The district stretches from Charlotte, one of the nation’s financial nerve centers, through its flourishing eastern suburbs and into less prosperous rural counties along the South Carolina line. More than half its voters were expected to come from the suburbs.

Since Trump became president, voters in such communities — particularly women and college-educated voters — have abandoned Trump in droves over his conservative social policies and vitriolic rhetoric on immigration and race.

Suburban defections would also jeopardize the reelection prospects of Trump, who’s already facing slipping poll numbers. Limiting the erosion of those voters will be crucial for him to retain swing states like North Carolina, which he won by less than 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Tuesday’s vote showed that Bishop benefited from the district’s conservative leanings.

“Bishop, his policies follow my convictions — after hearing Bishop, knowing that he’s for the Second Amendment and he’s against illegal immigration,” said Susie Sisk, 73, a retiree from Mint Hill. The registered Democrat said she voted for Bishop.

Along with a GOP victory in a second vacant House district in North Carolina, Republicans pared the Democratic majority in the House to 235-199, plus one independent. That means to win control of the chamber in 2020, Republicans will need to gain 19 seats, which a slew of GOP retirements and demographic changes around the country suggests will be difficult.

In the day’s other special election, Republican Greg Murphy, a doctor and state legislator, defeated Democrat Allen Thomas — as expected — to keep a House district along North Carolina’s Atlantic coast.

That seat has been vacant since February, when 13-term GOP Rep. Walter Jones died, and Trump won the district handily in 2016.

The bathroom law that Bishop sponsored was repealed after it prompted a national outcry and boycotts that the AP estimated cost North Carolina $3.7 billion.

Bishop bound himself tightly to Trump, backing his proposed border wall with Mexico and accusing Trump critics of being intent on “destroying him.”

“The voters said no to radical, liberal polices pushed by today’s Democratic Party,” Bishop said in a victory speech.

McCready, a former Marine who started a firm that’s financed solar energy projects to cast himself as a job creator and environmental champion. He also focused on containing health care costs and ran a spot featuring his trademark promise to prioritize “country over party.”

In his concession speech, McCready referred to the ballot fraud investigation that led to Tuesday’s special election.

“When the people in power sought to silence the voices of the voters, stole their ballots, forged signatures from them, filled in vote choices for them,” McCready said, “we fought back and we won.”

At a rally Trump staged for Bishop in July, Trump said four Democratic women of color should “go back” to their home countries, though all but one was born in the U.S. The crowd began chanting “Send her back!”

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Associated Press writers Emery P. Dalesio and Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.
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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Black voters hold the key to 2020 presidential election

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to community faith leaders after serving breakfast during a visit to Dulan’s Soul Food on Crenshaw in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

For all the strategic calculations, sophisticated voter targeting and relentless talk about electability in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Democratic presidential nomination will be determined by a decidedly different group: black voters.

African Americans will watch as mostly white voters in the first two contests express preferences and winnow the field — then they will almost certainly anoint the winner.

So far, that helps explain the front-running status of former Vice President Joe Biden. He has name recognition, a relationship with America’s first black president and decades long Democratic resume. Black voters have long been at the foundation of his support — his home state of Delaware, where he served as a U.S. senator for nearly four decades, is 38 percent black — and until another presidential candidate proves that he or she can beat him, he is likely to maintain that support.

In the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton held a strong lead among black voters over Barack Obama until he stunned her by winning the Iowa caucuses and proved to black voters that he was acceptable to a broad spectrum of Democrats. Those same voters returned to Clinton in 2016.

This cycle, many black voters are also making a pragmatic choice — driven as much or more by who can defeat President Donald Trump as the issues they care about — and sitting back to see which candidate white voters are comfortable with before deciding whom they will back.

At the same time, the early courtship of black voters, overt and subtle, is part of a primary within the primary that includes detailed plans on issues like criminal justice reform, reparations, maternal mortality among black women, voter suppression and systemic racism.

“As black voters and movers and drivers of national politics, our self-image and awareness of our power and influence is evolving,” said Aimee Allison, founder of the She the People network, which hosted the first presidential forum aimed specifically at female voters of color.

Trump appealed to black voters during the 2016 campaign by saying “What the hell do you have to lose?” and ended up with only 8 percent of the black vote. But the Republican president again is saying he will try to win over black voters, frequently citing low unemployment and his own success in signing criminal justice legislation. So far, there is no evidence to suggest that he will succeed.

But the first test of the decisiveness of black voters will come in the primaries. African Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population but 24 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. That number is more formidable in the early primary state of South Carolina, where black voters are two-thirds of primary voters, and in other early voting states like Georgia, Alabama and Virginia.

Biden reminded black reporters in a recent roundtable that his strength is not just with working class whites, but with the black voters he’s known for more than half a century in politics.

“After all this time, they think they have a sense of what my character is and who I am, warts and all,” Biden said. “I’ll be surprised if you find any African Americans that think I’m not in on the deal, that I’m not who I say I am … I’ve never, ever, ever in my entire life been in circumstances where I’ve ever felt uncomfortable being in the black community.”

He acknowledged that his familiarity is no assurance of success. And he noted that black voters may ultimately prefer black candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris of California or Cory Booker of New Jersey. First, though, one of them would have to prove to black voters that they were viable alternatives.

Black voters can be decisive not only in determining the Democrats’ nominee but also the ultimate winner. While Democrats have peaked in recent cycles with white voters at around 40 percent, black voters have been their most loyal constituency.

But in 2016, a drop-off among black voters had consequences. Black voter turnout dropped from 65.3 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent, and Hillary Clinton received 89 percent of the black vote, compared with 93 percent for Barack Obama in 2012 and 95 percent in 2008.

“It comes down to a strategy decision that campaigns have to make: Do they believe that the way to win the White House is to win white voters, or do they believe that the way to White House is to mobilize voters of color?” said Leah Daughtry, who recently hosted a 2020 Democratic forum for black faith voters in Atlanta.

“Is there a strategy that allows you to do both? Perhaps,” Daughtry said. “But one is a sure bet. If you get us to the polls, we are most likely to vote Democrat. If you get white folks to the polls, you don’t know what they’re going to do.”

In the past, Biden would have been a prohibitive favorite, said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. But black voters are demanding that candidates deliver on their priorities in a way they haven’t done in recent history.

“Black folks are looking to figure out who white voters are going to align with, but I don’t think that’s the driver that it has been in the past,” she continued. “Black voters, like white voters, are increasingly frustrated with the process. No longer is it good enough to choose between the devil or the witch.”

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Walsh announces 2020 primary run against Trump

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman ad tea party favorite turned radio talk show host, announced a longshot challenge Sunday to President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020, saying the incumbent is “completely unfit” for office and must be denied a second term.

“Somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative” among Republicans, Walsh told ABC’s “This Week,” adding that “the country is sick of this guy’s tantrum. He’s a child. … He lies every time he opens his mouth.”

Already in the race is former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

Walsh narrowly won a House seat from suburban Chicago in the 2010 tea party wave but lost a 2012 reelection bid and has since hosted a radio talk show. He has a history of inflammatory statements regarding Muslims and others and declared just before the 2016 election that if Trump lost, “I’m grabbing my musket.”

But he has since soured on Trump, criticizing the president in a recent New York Times column over growth of the federal deficit and calling him “a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to rouse his base.”

Walsh promises to contest Trump from the right as opposed to Weld, who is regarded as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Weld was the 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee.

The road ahead for any Republican primary challenger will certainly be difficult.

In recent months, Trump’s allies have taken over state parties that control primary elections in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere. State party leaders sometimes pay lip service to the notion that they would welcome a primary challenger, as their state party rules usually require, but they are already working to ensure Trump’s reelection.

South Carolina Republicans have gone so far as to discuss canceling their state’s GOP primary altogether if a legitimate primary challenge emerges to eliminate the threat.

At the same time, polling consistently shows that Trump has the solid backing of an overwhelming majority of Republican voters. An Associated Press-NORC poll conducted this month found that 78% of Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance. That number has been hovering around 80% even as repeated scandals have rocked his presidency.

“Look, this isn’t easy to do. … I’m opening up my life to tweets and attacks. Everything I’ve said and tweeted now, Trump’s going to go after, and his bullies are going to go after,” Walsh told ABC.

Asked whether he was prepared for that, Walsh replied: “Yes, I’m ready for it.”

Walsh, 57, rode a wave of anti-President Barack Obama sentiment to a 300-vote victory over a Democratic incumbent in the 2010 election. He made a name for himself in Washington as a cable news fixture who was highly disparaging of Obama.

Walsh was criticized for saying that the Democratic Party’s “game” is to make Latinos dependent on government just like “they got African Americans dependent upon government.” At another point, he said radical Muslims are in the U.S. “trying to kill Americans every week,” including in Chicago’s suburbs.

He lost his 2012 reelection bid by more than 20,000 votes to Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who was elected to the U.S. Senate four years later.

Walsh told Obama to “watch out” on Twitter in July 2016 after five police officers were killed in Dallas. Just days before Trump’s 2016 win over Hillary Clinton, Walsh tweeted: “On November 8th, I’m voting for Trump. On November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?” Walsh later said on Twitter that he was referring to “acts of civil disobedience.”

Walsh wrote in his New York Times column that “In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugliest iteration of views I expressed for the better part of a decade.”

“On more than one occasion, I questioned Mr. Obama’s truthfulness about his religion,” Walsh wrote. “At times, I expressed hate for my political opponents. We now see where this can lead. There’s no place in our politics for personal attacks like that, and I regret making them.”

Walsh said his 2016 vote for Trump was actually against Clinton and faulted Trump for his unwillingness to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He encouraged Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he refuses to take foreign threats seriously as we enter the 2020 election. That’s reckless,” Walsh wrote. “For three years, he has been at war with our federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as he embraces tyrants abroad and embarrasses our allies. That’s un-American.”

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Associated Press writers Tom Davies in Indianapolis and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.

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Faltering economy helps Democrats, but they can’t gloat

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom, in Clear Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Campaigning under the stifling August sun, Joe Biden assailed President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, accusing him of squandering a strong economy and putting Americans’ financial security at risk.

But he was quick to add that he was not hoping for the worst.

“I never wish for a recession. Period,” the former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate told reporters in Prole, Iowa.

Biden’s comments highlight the delicate balance for Democrats as the U.S. economy flashes recession warning signs. In town halls and speeches across the country this week, candidates leveled blame on Trump, arguing that his aggressive and unpredictable tariff policies were prompting gloomy economic forecasts. Yet they also strained to avoid the appearance of cheering for a downturn that would inflict financial pain on millions of Americans, but potentially help their party’s political fortunes in 2020.

For more than two years, the combination of solid growth, low unemployment and a rising stock market has been a bulwark for Trump, helping him maintain the support of many independents and moderate Republicans who are turned off by his incendiary statements and pugnacious personality. According to a new Associated Press-NORC poll, a higher percentage of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy than his overall job performance.

“If there is a recession and the economy is doing worse, not better, than when Donald Trump started, it is hard to see how the majority of the American people, even those who have looked the other way on so many of his indiscretions, will decide to give him a shot at another four years,” said Jennifer Psaki, a former White House and campaign adviser to President Barack Obama.

Trump’s advisers privately have the same concern, particularly given that the president’s path to victory is already narrow. Well aware that a sitting president almost always gets the credit or the blame for the state of the American economy, Trump and his team have tried to point the finger elsewhere, namely in the direction of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, accusing him of slowing growth by not lowering interest rates.

“Our Federal Reserve does not allow us to do what we must do. They put us at a disadvantage against our competition,” Trump said Thursday on Twitter.

Shifting blame to others has been a frequent tactic for Trump, even to those within his own administration. (Trump nominated Powell as Fed chair last year.)

Some Democrats said he shouldn’t get away with it this time.

“Do not allow him to escape the accountability that he deserves for what he is doing to this economy,” said Beto O’Rourke, a presidential contender and former Texas congressman. “He’ll try to blame every other person. The blame rests with Donald Trump. Now it’s incumbent on all of us to call this out.”

For months, the strong American economy has posed complications for Democrats trying to unseat Trump. Although Trump inherited an economy on the rise from his predecessor, Barack Obama, gains have indisputably continued under his watch. Unemployment is near a 50-year low at 3.7%. Consumer and business confidence has been strong, fueling record highs on Wall Street, even though the most recent signs show that consumer confidence could be ebbing.

Rather than trying to undercut those markers or predict doom ahead, most Democratic candidates have focused on economic inequalities, arguing that the wealthy were reaping the benefits far more than middle- and working-class Americans. In particular, Candidates have hammered Trump’s 2018 tax law, which gave large-scale tax cuts to the rich and corporations and more moderate benefits to the middle class. And they’ve slammed the tariffs for burdening farmers across the heartland.

One exception has been Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has openly warned about the prospect of another economic decline. In July, she wrote an essay predicting that a rise in consumer and corporate debt was imperiling the longest expansion in U.S. history.

“Whether it’s this year or next year, the odds of another economic downturn are high — and growing,” Warren wrote.

Biden in particular appeared to shift close to Warren’s warnings this week, as analysts said that a slowdown, if not a full-blown recession, could hit before next year’s election. During a two-day campaign swing through Iowa, Biden reminded voters that the Obama administration handed Trump a strong economy that could quickly come undone.

“Donald Trump inherited a growing economy from the Obama-Biden administration, just like he inherited everything in his life. And now he’s squandered it, just like he’s squandered everything he inherited in his life,” said Biden, making sure to remind voters of his own role in revitalizing the economy during the last administration.

Other Democrats were more cautious, particularly about leaving the impression that the party sees a political benefit from an economic decline.

“I just think it’s very important that we be clear as a party that we don’t want a recession,” said John Delaney, the former Maryland congressman who is mired at the bottom of the pack in the crowded Democratic primary field. “I don’t want anything to happen, even if it’s good politics, if it hurts workers.”

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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