Trump returns to North Carolina for final stretch of special election race

The outcome of the special election could give Trump's campaign insight on 2020.

September 9, 2019, 7:59 PM

President Donald Trump touched down in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Monday in an all-out push for a Republican victory in a tight special election race.

He kicked off his campaign rally by urging voters to come out and support Republican Dan Bishop in Tuesday's special election and promising to be "unwavering solidarity" with areas hit by Hurricane Dorian.

"We are behind you 100 percent," the president told a packed house at The Crown Theater. "North Carolina in our country got hit the hardest, that was a little bit of a surprise, but one thing about North Carolina is you can take it and you'll build it quickly and you'll build it beautifully and you'll be back sooner than anybody ever thought."

But the weight of this special election stretches beyond North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. After a summer of inflammatory rhetoric and growing fears of a recession, the outcome of this congressional race will give the president's reelection campaign insight on how their message is settling with suburban voters, a key voting demographic.

"Is the presidential rhetoric of the past month, going to do damage to the Republican candidate that has basically embraced the president?" Michael Blitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in North Carolina asked ABC News.

At the White House, Trump spoke with reporters before he left for North Carolina and said that he didn't see the race as a bellwether for the 2020 election. He pointed out that in 2018, the Republicans kept the Senate.

"No one talks about that," he said.

Exit poll analysis following the 2018 midterms completed by Langer Associates for ABC News found the suburbs were home to half of voters. While Democrats won over urban residents and Republicans won over small cities -- the suburbs were split evenly, 49-49%.

The spotlight on North Carolina has spanned far past Tuesday's special election. Earlier this summer, less than 100 miles away from where the president will hold his rally chants of "send her back" echoed throughout the president's rally in Greenville as he zeroed in on his attacks against four congresswomen of color.

PHOTO: US President Donald Trump salutes his supporters after a "Keep America Great" campaign rally at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, on August 15, 2019.
US President Donald Trump salutes his supporters after a "Keep America Great" campaign rally at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, on August 15, 2019.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Dan Bishop, the Republican in the congressional race, has aligned his rhetoric and policies with Trump. He recently launched an ad featuring video from the Greenville rally of the president labeling his opponent Dan McCready as an "ultra-liberal" candidate who likes open borders and admires socialism. The ad, also ties McCready to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, part of the so-called "squad" targeted by the president.

The president also drummed up fear around immigration at Monday's rally, while making the case for his supporters to vote for Dan Bishop in Tuesday's special election.

"Support for sanctuary cities is disloyalty to American citizens and McCready wants sanctuary cities with all of the protections for people who are serious criminals," Trump said. "Tomorrow is your chance to send a clear message to the American hating left."

The president then brought Bishop on stage.

"Mr. President we are not tired of winning, we want to keep on winning," Bishop said, before promising to win Tuesday's election.

Bishop, wearing a suit matching Trump's own navy suit and red tie, then launched into a Trumpian pitch to voters, decrying "socialist" Democrats and the media.

"We've all watched the socialist Democratic Party seek the president's destruction every day," Bishop said.

This district has been a Republican stronghold since the 1960's.

"It's a fairly safe Republican seat in normal political environment," Blitzer said.

"But, this is not a normal political environment," he added.

This race, like the national conversation has also spotlighted the divide on issues like health care, immigration and gun reform.

Bishop has touted, his "A" rating from the NRA and Trump has joined Bishop in labeling his opponent as "weak on crime, borders and against your [second amendment rights]."

"I would have to see the results to say if there's any broader national implications. But If McCready's focus on the district, on health care … if that is successful, then Democrats should look at other districts that they didn't win and say our strategy seems to be working, we just have to run the right kind of candidate," Blitzer said.

A Republican loss "reinforces the dynamics coming out of the 2018 election that Republicans are increasingly struggling in urban and suburban districts," said Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte told ABC News.

The race, the first congressional election to be redone since 1974, is in a district that borders South Carolina and currently extends from Charlotte's suburbs to more rural areas east of the city.

The president's visit to the state comes in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which hit North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday, killing one person as a Category 1 storm, with 90 mph winds. The storm left thousands in the dark and over the weekend, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said 45,000 people in the state were still without power.

ABC News' Kendall Karson contributed to this report.

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