FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — President Donald Trump headed here on Monday for an election-eve rescue mission in a neck-and-neck congressional race — and to boost his own standing in a key 2020 swing state.
Dan Bishop, a GOP state senator, is tied in the polls with Democrat Dan McCready in Tuesday’s do-over election in the state’s 9th District. And the Republican is counting on the president — along with Vice President Mike Pence, who campaigned for Bishop in another part of the district earlier Monday — to carry him across the finish line.
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“I think we’ve caught [McCready], and I think we’re passing him, or we passed him,” Bishop told POLITICO in an interview over the weekend. “I think the president coming in Monday — and the vice president — will put us over the top.”
But Trump will also have his own reelection bid on his mind when he takes the stage for a rally in the 60,000-square-foot Crown Expo Center. North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes are critical for the president’s campaign for a second term; he won the state by less than 4 percentage points in 2016.
Still, the closeness of the congressional race — held in a district Trump won by 12 percentage points in 2016 — is an ominous sign for his reelection hopes and could suggest the political environment has not improved since the 2018 midterms, when the party lost 40 House seats.
The race between Bishop and McCready could make it 41 Democratic pickups: Last November, McCready appeared to lose the race by only 905 votes. But the state board of elections threw out the results after uncovering credible evidence of alleged election fraud linked to Republican Mark Harris’ campaign, and it ordered a new election. Harris decided not to continue his candidacy.
The rally comes as Trump plans to increase hiscampaign effortsafter a summer that saw worries about a possibleeconomic slowdownamid failed trade talks with China and a growing list of foreign policy shortfalls, from scuttledpeace talkswith the Afghan Taliban to nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
And it comes after he spent much of the last week trying to prove that he was correct when he said Alabama might be impacted by Hurricane Dorian — even as North Carolina’s coastal areas were suffering from the storm.
Trump and his aides have grown increasingly concerned about the economy — his strongest re-election talking point — amid signs that a downtown may be on the way. Still, the Trump campaign focused on its strength when touting the president’s record here.
“President Trump has transformed the economy of North Carolina, creating more than 175,000 jobs in the state since he was elected,” said Michael Glassner, the campaign’s chief operating officer.
Trump’s rallies are often more about him than those he is endorsing — and he is expected to talk about his accomplishments, including money he secured to build a wall on the southern border, while using the platform, as he always does, to go after Democratic rivals and perceived slights.
Trump’s last rally in North Carolina was in July in Greenville, where he went after four freshman Democratic House members — the “squad” of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — and suggested they leave the country, even though all are U.S. citizens. “Send her back,” the crowd responded, referring to Omar, who is Muslim. Trump later denounced the chant.
Monday night’s rally is part of a multi-pronged effort from the Trump team to boost Bishop. Earlier Monday, Pence was in the Charlotte suburbs, speaking at an event with Bishop and dropping into a makeshift call center at a local hotel. The vice president also had lunch with Bishop at a barbecue restaurant. He was expected to make the 100-mile trip east to join Trump at the rally in Fayetteville, a military-heavy community anchored by nearby Fort Bragg.
Trump’s campaign also donated the maximum amount of $2,000 to Bishop’s campaign, helped with online fundraising and, according to a Trump campaign official, participated in five fundraisers, including two with Pence; one with Pence’s wife, Karen Pence; one with Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff; and one with the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
While rally attendees were gathering Monday afternoon outside the expo center, McCready — the Democratic candidate and a Marine veteran — was also in Fayetteville, for an event with veterans and other supporters who planned to canvass for him that day.
McCready told reporters that Bishop was bringing “everyone and their mother” into the district to bail him out. Asked by a reporter to respond to Trump’spast characterizationof him as “weak on Crime, Military & Vets,” McCready cited his military service, including as a platoon leader in Iraq in 2007.
“There’s only one person in this race who’s served our country in uniform, who’s actually fought terrorists, who’s already fought to keep our country safe,” McCready said. “And it ain’t Dan Bishop.”
Monday’s rally is Trump’s second campaign event in the state in the past three months. The July rally in Greenville was held in the state’s 3rd Congressional District, which is also hosting a special election on Tuesday after the death of the incumbent Republican, Rep. Walter Jones, in February. Republican Greg Murphy is heavily favored to win the seat in the district, which Trump carried by 24 points in 2016.