Here’s why: On paper, this should be an easy victory for Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop. A Democrat hasn’t held the 9th District since the early 1960s. President Donald Trump carried it by 12 points in 2016. Bishop is a totally credible nominee with no disqualifying issues.
If Bishop wins — even if the margin is significantly narrower than Trump’s in the district — Republicans will breathe a massive sigh of relief and live to fight (and maybe win) another day.
But if Bishop loses, look out. What has been a low-lying dread creeping through the House Republican conference — typified by the dozen GOP members who are retiring with no other future political plans in place — will transform, quickly, into total panic.
Why? Because as I noted, this is a solidly Republican district. In fact, according to figures from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, there are 34 districts currently held by Republican members of Congress that Trump carried by less than he did North Carolina’s 9th. (By contrast, Democratic incumbents only represent three districts where Trump won by more than he did this seat.)
If you don’t think every single one of those 34 GOP members are watching the North Carolina race extremely closely, then you are, in a word, wrong. Congress is a lot like high school — everybody is watching everybody else. There are no secrets. And everything that happens is immediately seen through that most human of lenses: “What does this mean for me?”
Now. There are some mitigating circumstances here. After all, the reason this seat is currently vacant is that the North Carolina Board of Elections refused to seat Republican Mark Harris after a 2018 election in which significant evidence of absentee-voter fraud occurred. Although Harris is not the party nominee — and Bishop has nothing to do with the fraud — there could be a lingering brand issue for Republicans.
That is a factor in this particular race that, clearly, won’t be replicated around the country for Republicans trying to hold their House seats in 2020.
A loss in North Carolina on Tuesday night would almost certainly be a final straw for some House Republicans wavering about whether or not to run again in 2020. Confronted with the very real possibility that they could lose their seats in an environment in which Trump’s unpredictability is driving voters away from the party more broadly, retiring on their own terms might suddenly look much more appealing.
Already the retirements within their ranks have made House Republicans’ push to retake the majority in 2020 more difficult. A Bishop loss — and the potential panic that would cause among GOPers in Congress — could end or, at the very least, badly curtail Republican hopes before we even get to 2020.