Strategy Memo: Implications from Bishop NC-09 Victory


Dan Bishop’s victory in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District’s special election last night is a crucial inflection point in the 2020 election cycle.

Club for Growth members contributed over $193,000 directly to Bishop’s winning campaign through the Club for Growth PAC, and Club for Growth Action spent over $996,000 for a total of more than $1,189,000.  This outside spending, which was only possible because of your contributions, was one of the major factors that led to Bishop’s victory.  Bishop also benefitted from major investments by national Republican committees, and President Trump held a rally the day before Election Day uniting Republicans across the district.

While Democrats, not surprisingly, claim the results are actually bad for Republicans and Trump, we disagree. The following memo lays out key takeaways and implications from the NC-09 special election.

Four Key Takeaways From NC-09

First, the Blue Wave has crested.  NC-09 is a classic example of the Battleground Districts Republicans lost in 2018. It has both a large rural population and a significant block of disenchanted suburban voters.   And McCready was straight out of central casting for the type of Democrat who won in 2018 – he campaigned as a moderate and distanced himself from the radical politicians and policies we see in Washington and running for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Yet, not only did Bishop beat McCready, he improved on Republican 2018 performance. Specifically, Bishop won 50.7% while McCready only received 48.7%, while in 2018 the Republican only got 49.3%. In addition, Bishop improved upon Harris’ share of the vote in 7 of 8 counties in the district flipping 2 from blue to red.

Second, candidates matter.   Republicans must choose authentic candidates who have a record of fighting for Republican values.  The mistrust of congressional Republicans over years of broken campaign promises has to be overcome by selecting candidates in the primaries who voters know are principled and authentic.   Bishop was most known as the sponsor of the controversial North Carolina “Bathroom Bill.”  Not our issue, but it signaled to voters that he wouldn’t shy away from fights for lower taxes and less government.  In other words, if and when voters send him to Washington, he will follow through.  This was critical as Bishop attacked McCready’s radical environmental record, which became the central winning issue for him in the campaign.  Republicans will win when voters trust them and they aren’t afraid to take on Democrats.

Third, outside spending matters. Bishop’s campaign raised $1.95 million in hard money, less than half of the $4.95 million raised by McCready’s campaign according to The Charlotte Observer.  But there was significant outside spending, almost $11 million, that overwhelmingly benefitted Bishop, including $1 million from Club for Growth Action because of your generous contributions.  Without these funds to deliver our message, we’d probably be looking at Congressman-elect McCready.

The Charlotte Observer reports the following outside spending:
Bishop ($6.8 million total)

  • NRCC: $3.1 million
  • Congressional Leadership Fund: $2.3 million
  • Club for Growth Action: $1 million
  • Committee to Defend the President: $204,500
  • House Freedom Action: $84,100

McCready ($3.9 million total)

  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: $1.2 million
  • House Majority Forward: $1.06 million
  • Environmental Defense Fund: $936,000
  • League of Conservation Voters: $243,000
  • VoteVets Action Fund: $227,000.

Fourth, President Trump is a net positive for Republicans, even in swing districts. We followed this race with weekly polling which showed Bishop was behind in early voting. President Trump’s rally flipped that by motivating his supporters in the rural conservative portions of the district to come out and vote.

Looking Forward

To capitalize on this election victory and turn the tide, Republicans must do two things in the months ahead:

First, Republicans must choose strong, authentic economic conservatives as candidates in primaries early next year. In swing districts, a weak, moderate candidate simply will not be able to motivate the Republican base and overcome the Democratic suburban advantages.  NC 9 results show that recruiting moderate Republicans in an effort to win back suburban voters will fail. Club for Growth PAC is actively recruiting dozens of authentic, pro-growth Republican candidates in crucial, must-win districts around the country.  By helping real conservatives win primaries, we help the party in November by offering candidates that can capitalize on President Trump’s strengths in swing districts.

Second, congressional Republicans in Washington must be bold and start showing that they will fight for a conservative agenda in Washington this Fall.  This election shows that economic issues – like the Green New Deal — will be front and center in both rural and suburban districts.  Republicans can win with free market, limited government positions. But Democrats will continue to push non-economic issues to try to split Republican votes in suburban areas.  Two issues where the Club for Growth does not take a position are immigration and gun control.  Here, the political lesson for Republicans is that it is better to stick with the rural conservative base than try to pursue moderate suburban voters with half-hearted measures that may not win votes anyway.  To turn the tide, congressional Republicans would be wise to look for those issues that unite Republicans and force those issues into the national debate for 2020 rather than allow Democrats to use issues that may divide Republicans.