Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer joined WFAE's Morning Edition to discuss Dan Bishop's victory in the 9th Congressional District Republican primary, and look ahead to the general election in September against Democrat Dan McCready. Turnout was roughly 10 percent for Tuesday's special election, but Bitzer says that doesn't mean there will be a lack of enthusiasm in September.
"Certainly primaries have the tendency of lower voter turnout than general elections, but stick a primary election in the middle of May, off year (election) when people aren't really paying attention - while this garnered the national focus because of all the ballot fraud that happened last year, I'm not sure people were really in tune."
Here's a transcript of Bitzer's conversation wtih WFAE's Lisa Worf:
Lisa Worf: So polls had Dan Bishop at about 30 percent but he did much better last night getting nearly 48 percent of the vote. Were you surprised by that?
Michael Bitzer: You know I think we didn't know what to really expect. Polling in these kind of off- year low-voter turnout races tend to be kind of all over the place. And while the polls were pretty consistent and giving him the 30 percent, I don't think anybody expected him to have such a dominant effect across the district. We knew he was going to do well in Mecklenburg. The big question was how well he was going to do in Union County right next door. But he swept all of the eight counties in the district. So it was a pretty commanding performance considering that only barely 30,000 votes were cast total in this election.
Lisa Worf: Which is about 9.5 percent turnout.
Michael Bitzer: Exactly. I was trying to be optimistic going into Tuesday. I thought it would probably be 10 to 15 percent - maybe 15 percent based on what we saw in the North Carolina 3rd Congressional District Republican primary. But you know, we have to do a rounding up to even get to 10 percent and it was pretty abysmal in terms of voter turnout.
Lisa Worf: What does that say about enthusiasm about this race and looking into the general election?
Michael Bitzer: I'm not sure we can necessarily read a whole lot out of it. Certainly primaries have the tendency of lower voter turnout than general elections but stick a primary election in the middle of May, off year (election) when people aren't really paying attention - while this garnered the national focus because of all the ballot fraud that happened last year, I'm not sure people were really in tune. Perhaps they were discontent because of the previous allegations (of mail ballot fraud). Maybe there just wasn't enough enthusiasm by the candidates to spur a lot of voter interest in it. I think it's a whole host of things.
Lisa Worf: Dan Barry, a former Republican Party chairman in Union County said he thinks Mark Harris's endorsement of the second-place finisher Stony Rushing ended up hurting him, saying there was Mark Harris fatigue too. Do you think that's accurate.
Michael Bitzer: It could certainly be an indicator of why everyone kind of coalesced around Dan Bishop. I think Stony Rushing certainly coming out of Union County - which had the most votes last night in the district - certainly probably did not help him with the Mark Harris endorsement. I think Republicans were kind of looking to distance themselves and get themselves away from Mark Harris. Maybe that was the reasoning.
Lisa Worf: Dan McCready and the Democratic Party are already pointing out that Bishop sponsored House Bill 2. While House Bill 2 was controversial in Charlotte, is it as big of a deal in the rest of the district?
Michael Bitzer: I'm not real sure particularly among Republicans that, first off, they would probably be supportive of something like HB 2 and because the primary author Dan Bishop was instrumental in that, for Republicans who are social conservatives, they're probably looking at that as a plus for Dan Bishop. Whether the HB 2 fatigue will set in and whether that will be the primary attack that Democrats lobby against Dan Bishop, we're gonna have to wait and see how the general election plays out. You know I'll be curious to see what the results are in Mecklenburg, particularly in the south Charlotte part of the district when it comes to HB 2. But for Republicans I'm not necessarily seeing that as an attack. You know if that's going to generate enthusiasm among Democrats certainly, but this district is a lean Republican district to begin with, so we'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out for the general.
Lisa Worf: As far as the general election in September, do you think it'll be treated nationally as whether President Trump or Democratic candidates have momentum going into 2020?
Michael Bitzer: I think we will try and read some tea leaves for 2020 out of this race. But like with so many other special elections, particularly in 2017, we got a sense that Democrats were doing well. But you know it all depends on the nature and the dynamic of the district. And remember in the North Carolina 9th in 2016, Donald Trump won that district with 56 percent of the vote. I believe Robert Pittenger Jr. won with 58 percent of the vote. So this is going to be an uphill climb for Democrats to to make it competitive. They certainly did that in 2018 because of the Democratic wave underneath them. It's going to require a lot of money which is what Dan McCready has already built up, and it's going to require some real effort to make sure that this is a competitive seat going into the September general election.