WASHINGTON — Republican Rep.-elect Dan Bishop’s narrow victory in a North Carolina special election had drawn a half-dozen excited tweets from President Donald Trump by early Wednesday morning.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “Big Rally last night.”
A 2-point win in a district that Trump carried by 12 points in 2016 qualified as “monumental,” he said in a phone call with Bishop — and on one level it’s hard to argue with that interpretation in the context of Trump’s sub-40 percent national approval rating, the drubbing his party took in the 2018 midterm elections and an ever-more-chaotic administration atmosphere that saw the firing of his third national security adviser in less than three years on Tuesday.
North Carolina special election: Full results and map
But as a matter of measuring his standing before he faces voters next year, barely holding onto turf that’s been in Republican hands for decades — where he himself jetted in for a last-minute rally to pump energy into the GOP base Monday night — should be cause for the president to sound alarm bells in his ranks rather than blast triumphant notes from his own horn.
“Republicans should feel relieved they avoided a loss, but here’s why Bishop’s 2% win isn’t encouraging: There are 35 GOP-held House seats less Republican” than North Carolina’s 9th District, David Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and an NBC contributor, wrote Tuesday night.
While Trump’s charge is different than that of House Republicans — he has to win state-by-state to take an electoral college majority, while they play district-by-district to try to recapture control of the House — the political dynamics are related. The results Tuesday night demonstrated that, at least outside Charlotte, Republicans aren’t winning back many in the vote-rich suburbs they lost in the 2018 midterms.
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And yet Trump could take satisfaction in one obvious subplot. The district includes a portion of Fayetteville’s Cumberland County, and those precincts had favored the Democrat in the last House election. They were Trump’s target when he held the rally for Bishop on Monday at the Crown Expo Center in Fayetteville, tucked just inside the 9th District.
On Tuesday, Bishop won the Cumberland County part of the district by six votes.
No two races are exactly alike, but this one was a reasonably good bellwether because it was a do-over of a tainted contest from November in which Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by four-tenths of a point amid allegations of election fraud. This time, fewer than 190,000 people voted, compared to almost 283,000 in November.
The key takeaways: Bishop out-performed Harris in rural areas, and McCready beat his own numbers in suburban Mecklenburg County — increasing his share of the vote there from 54.9 percent to 56.3 percent.
Trump strategy for winning re-election relies heavily on massive rural Republican turnout in swing states — as it did in 2016 — but some Republicans have privately questioned whether he can win if he doesn’t find a way to reclaim some of the suburban voters he’s alienated during his presidency.
Frank Luntz, a veteran pollster and message-maker for GOP candidates, likened Bishop’s win to a heavily favored college football team hanging on in the final minutes against an opponent that shouldn’t have been in the ballgame.
“Conservative Twitter celebrating a 2-point win in a +12 GOP district from 2016 is like Michigan celebrating a win over Army in double-overtime,” he wrote on Twitter.
Of course, Tuesday night’s election was just one of 435 House races, run in the vacuum of a special election in an off-year between midterms and the next presidential contest. But it serves as another data point — along with many months of polling on the president’s approval rating, voters’ attitudes and head-to-head matchups between Trump and potential Democratic foes — that suggests he has a lot of work to do to reclaim voters and political turf he’s lost since 2016.
Nothing Trump has done so far — including taking a self-congratulatory victory lap Tuesday night and Wednesday morning — suggests he’s heard that wake-up call yet.
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Elizabeth Warren edges out Joe Biden in Des Moines Register Iowa poll
The poll out Saturday night found Warren was the top choice for the Democratic nomination with 22 percent support among likely caucus-goers, while Biden had the support of 20 percent of respondents. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to third with 11 percent.
The poll was conducted of 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers from Sept. 14-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24 percent and Warren in the third spot at 15 percent, slightly behind Bernie Sanders, who came in second with 16 percent support.
While there have been several other recent polls of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state, the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, conducted by Des Moines-based pollster Ann Selzer, is widely considered to be the most accurate, so its Saturday night releases have become must-watch events for Iowa politicos.
The poll was released after the entire 2020 Democratic presidential field gathered in Des Moines Saturday for the annual Steak Fry, a fundraising event hosted by the local Democratic Party club.
Warren surged 7 points in the poll since the June survey, while Biden lost a bit of ground, putting them neck-and-neck inside the poll’s margin of error.
Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both slipped significantly, down 5 and 6 percentage points, respectively, leaving Buttigieg at 9 percent, down from 15.
The rest of the field, meanwhile, is mired in the single digits.
California Sen. Kamala Harris held steady at 6 percent, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gained a couple of points to land at 3 percent, while coming at 2 percent were Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Everyone else was at 1 percent or below.
Still, just one-in-five likely Democratic caucus-goers said they had already made up their minds so the race remains fluid. Almost two-thirds said they were open to being convinced to support someone else.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer told the Register. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
But the data is unquestionably good news for Warren, who is now both the best-liked candidate in the field (75 percent view her favorably) and the candidate being considered by the most likely caucus-goers (71 percent).
Voters go ‘center-left’ on issues, but not on candidates
WASHINGTON – When it comes to issues and issue agendas, there is good news and bad news for Democrats in 2020 in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
On the good news side of the ledger, there some key issues where voters seem supportive of left-leaning ideas and approaches. The bad news, a leftward-lean does not mean a leftward rush. If Democratic candidates push too hard in the primaries they may find themselves with problems in the general election.
The issue agreements and differences with registered voters and Democratic primary voters are eye-opening and, in some cases, surprising.
One number that jumps out of the data, 58 percent of registered voters in the survey say they support “providing free tuition at state colleges and universities.” That’s lower than the 81 percent of Democratic primary voters who support the idea and there’s a lot of wiggle room in how respondents may have interpreted the question (would it be means-tested?), but it’s still a majority.
And there are a series of issues like that one, where Democrats seem to have registered voters in their corner on topics ranging from immigration and student debt to health care and the environment.
For instance, 67 percent of registered voters and 89 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor allowing young adults who were brought illegally to this country to stay here to attend college. On student debt, 64 percent of registered voters and 82 percent of Democratic primary voters favor forgiving student loans after someone has paid 12.5 percent of their income every year for 15 years.
The two groups are also in agreement on offering a health insurance “public option” for people younger than 65 who want to buy into it, 67 percent and 78 percent favor that idea respectively. And both registered voters and Democratic primary voters favor “shifting the country to 100 percent renewable energy and stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by the year 2030” – 52 percent and 81 percent support that idea.
Those are numbers that should bring smiles to the faces of Democrats. They show a lot of broad support on some major issues that Democrats say they favor and seem to suggest Democrats are in a good spot to win voters in 2020.
For the record, the data also show that both registered voters and Democratic primary voters oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and oppose eliminating the Affordable Care Act.
But there is another set of numbers in the poll that show the challenges Democrats could face on these same issues if their nominee heads down a path that goes a little further to the left.
On immigration, 64 percent of Democratic primary voters want to give undocumented immigrants government health care, only 36 percent of registered voters want that. When it comes to student debt, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters say they favor immediately canceling and forgiving all current student loan debt, but only 41 percent of registered voters support that idea.
A solid 63 percent of Democratic primary voters back a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system “in which private health insurance would be eliminated” – only 41 percent of registered voters agree. And while 58 percent of Democratic primary voters support an end to the practice of “fracking” for oil and gas production, only 41 percent of registered voters feel the same way.
Those are some wide gaps and the splits show that winning general election support is not just about talking about the right issues (clean energy, fixing student debt), it’s about talking about them in the right way.
The registered voter answers on these questions suggest that the U.S. electorate become a center-left entity in the last few elections, one that is embracing more liberal action on issues such as climate change, health care and college costs.
But these numbers also suggest that the “center-left” is not the “left” and that’s where many Democratic primary voters reside.
The next six to eight months will determine where the Democratic nominee eventually ends up on these issues. And if the party’s nominee moves too far too fast to placate primary voters, he or she may end up standing on uncomfortable ground next November.
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