WASHINGTON (AP) – Two Republicans who triumphed in North Carolina special elections were set to join the House on Tuesday, including one whose narrow win showed anew that suburban voters are deserting the GOP while rural residents are embracing the party.
The swearing-in of Dan Bishop and Greg Murphy will bring the House to full strength, if only for a few days. A lawmaker from Wisconsin has said he will relinquish his office next week.
For now, the new additions will leave Democrats controlling the chamber by 235-199, plus one independent. If that margin doesn’t change, that means the GOP will need to gain 19 seats in the 2020 elections to recapture House control, a surge that will be difficult.
Bishop, a conservative state senator, wrote the 2016 North Carolina law that restricted which public bathrooms transgender people may use. It was later repealed under widespread criticism.
He defeated Democrat Dan McCready last Tuesday by 2 percentage points last week. That was significantly less than Donald Trump’s 11-point win in the district in the 2016 presidential election, a worrisome sign for Republicans hoping to reelect Trump and make gains in Congress next year.
McCready, a former Marine turned financier, did slightly better in Charlotte and its suburbs than he’d done in his November 2018 bid for the same vacant seat. But Bishop performed marginally better in the district’s more rural counties than Republican Mark Harris did against McCready last November.
Trump ran strongly among white rural voters in 2016. Their support helped him narrowly carry several Midwestern states that were crucial to his victory.
If more numerous suburban voters continue abandoning him because of his strident anti-immigrant and other policies, that could offset his rural gains. It could also make it harder for Republicans to make gains in the House and retain Senate seats in Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina and elsewhere where competitive races are expected.
Harris seemed to win the 2016 race for the North Carolina seat by around 900 votes. State officials invalidated that election after investigators found evidence that a GOP operative had fraudulently manipulated absentee ballots. Harris decided against running again, citing medical problems.
With both parties sensing a close race, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in the district the day before last Tuesday’s election.
Until Tuesday, the district has had no House representation since the new Congress convened on Jan. 3.
Murphy, a state legislator and physician, easily defeated Democratic challenger Allen Thomas in an overwhelmingly Republican coastal district. He replaces Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who died in February during his 25th year in office.
A fresh vacancy will occur Monday, when Wisconsin GOP Rep. Sean Duffy leaves Congress. The five-term veteran announced his resignation last month, citing a desire for more family time.
Republicans are expected to retain that seat. No date for a special election to replace Duffy has been set.