Benjamin Freeman ‘22
On Tuesday, September 10th, North Carolina politics captured national attention once again with two special congressional elections. Republican Dan Bishop narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready to take NC House District 9, a race which saw close media coverage and a surge of party resources. While the other contest, in NC District 3, had a lower profile, the race proved significant for the Davidson community — winner Greg Murphy ’85, a Republican, became the only Davidson alum in Congress.
The special election in the reliably red NC-3 was prompted by former Congressman Walter Jones’ passing. Murphy defeated Democratic contender Allen Thomas by 24 points. Murphy had a long career as a urologist before becoming a politician, and is known for his efforts to combat the opioid crisis during his time in the NC House of Representatives.
Murphy’s election speaks to the “importance of the liberal arts education,” said Joe DeMartin ‘21, President of the Center for Political Engagement (CPE). DeMartin continued: “[Davidson students] can look to Greg Murphy — even if they have disagreements with him — as an example of someone who might not have traditionally thought of himself in politics […] but felt compelled to run [later].”
In a recent interview on Davidson’s official website, Murphy said his Davidson education taught him “to make rational decisions based on facts, not emotional biases.” He plans to return to Davidson as a sitting congressman to share “thoughts and ideas on how best we can continue as the greatest nation on earth.”
Not all students are happy with Murphy’s victory. Cutler Renard ‘20, President of College Democrats, said that Murphy’s presence at the July 10, 2019 Trump rally “where the President made an incredibly racist and unacceptable attack” on three sitting congresswomen was “an implication of support for these comments.” Renard argued that “his actions have brought shame to the college” and that “Murphy’s election is not something to be celebrated for Davidson.”
In response to “criticism from fellow Davidson alumni over positions [he has taken],” Murphy responded on the online interview that he “respect[s] their right to express their opinion” and hopes that Davidson still emphasizes the importance of “diversity of opinion.” Murphy explained that he “supports our president’s policies. He’s done a fantastic job on the economy, but he’s a bold individual and sometimes offends people.”
Maya Pillai ‘21, who volunteered for state-level Republican campaigns, said “Davidson was remiss in its duties for not congratulating one of its own alumni” being elected to Congress, though she applauded Davidson for acknowledging Murphy’s efforts to fight the opioid crisis.
While Murphy’s win grabbed the attention of the Davidson community, Bishop’s win over McCready in NC District 9 garnered a national audience. The race was tight — Bishop defeated McCready 51% to 49% — and many looked to the special election as a bellwether for the 2020 presidential election.
The North Carolina Board of Elections called the special election in response to voter fraud by political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked for Republican candidate Mark Harris’s campaign at the time. The Board of Elections stated that “the public’s confidence in the… election ha[d] been undermined.” Mark Harris declined to run again, ostensibly due to health reasons.
In the NC Senate, Bishop spearheaded the HB2 “bathroom bill,” which many local and national advocates argued discriminated against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. HB2 created a national backlash, including the NBA’s decision to move the All-Star game out of Charlotte in 2017.
Despite Bishop’s unfavorable press, Republican-affiliated groups rallied behind him, spending more than $5 million on his campaign, according to The New York Times. President Donald Trump held a rally in Fayetteville, NC to energize rural voters for Bishop on the Monday before the race. Vice President Mike Pence visited the state twice for campaign events.
Partisan organizations at Davidson campaigned in the District 3 race. Aidan Twombly ‘22, President of College Republicans, said that their organization brought five people out to doorknock, and expected that “[their] efforts definitely helped because, in a close race, every vote counts.”
Renard said that they “cooperated very closely with Precinct 206 […] send[ing] over twenty students to canvass […] and knocked on over 1,000 doors to try to turn out voters.”
Former visiting political science professor Dr. Michael Bitzer, one of the foremost experts on NC politics, was not surprised by the results. He asserted that although Bishop won, the election results show that suburban Mecklenburg County “is continuing to transition from a once-dominated Republican stronghold area to a competitive, even lean Democratic area.”
He said that this development has many implications for the future. Because “Trump only won North Carolina by less than four points,” Bitzer contended that 2020 “should be another tight race,” considering the trend of suburban voters shifting to the Democratic party and the fact that Republican strongholds are still staying loyal to the GOP.
DeMartin said there is a lot to look forward for North Carolina politics going into 2020, including the Democratic primaries, the RNC in Charlotte, and the presidential election within a crucial swing state. He credited partisan organizations for their voter registration drives and substantially increasing the number of Davidson students voting in the 2018 midterms compared to the 2014 midterms.
“The student voice is an important one,” said DeMartin, who added that, unfortunately, “a lot of students talk about the change they want to see in the country and then don’t turn out to vote.”