WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republicans who triumphed last week in North Carolina special elections became members of the House on Tuesday, including one whose narrow win displayed anew that suburban voters are deserting the GOP while rural residents are embracing the party.
The swearing-in of Dan Bishop and Greg Murphy brought the House to full strength, if only briefly because a Wisconsin lawmaker will relinquish his office next week. But it still left Republicans needing to gain 19 seats in the 2020 elections to recapture House control, a surge that will be difficult.
The oath of office was administered by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a regular presence in GOP television spots that characterize Democratic candidates as radicals. One Bishop ad placed her face atop a wobbling clown doll as he called Democrats “crazy liberal clowns.”
He and Murphy made conciliatory comments after taking their oaths. Bishop told his new colleagues he looked forward to working with them on “common-sense solutions to make the lives of Americans better.”
Bishop, a conservative state senator, wrote the 2016 North Carolina law that restricted which public bathrooms transgender people may use. It was later repealed under widespread criticism.
He defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 2 percentage points last week. That was significantly less than Donald Trump’s 11-point win in the district in the 2016 presidential election, a worrisome sign for Republicans hoping to reelect Trump and make gains in Congress next year.
McCready, a former Marine turned financier, did slightly better in Charlotte and its suburbs than he’d done in his November 2018 bid for the same vacant seat. But Bishop performed marginally better in the district’s more rural counties than Republican Mark Harris did against McCready last November.
Trump ran strongly among white rural voters in 2016. Their support helped him narrowly carry several Midwestern states that were crucial to his victory.
If suburban voters continue abandoning him because of his strident anti-immigrant and other policies, that could offset his rural gains. It could also make it harder for Republicans to make gains in the House and retain Senate seats in Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina and elsewhere where competitive races are expected.
Harris seemed to win the 2018 race for the North Carolina seat by around 900 votes. State officials invalidated that election after investigators found evidence that a GOP operative had fraudulently manipulated absentee ballots. Harris decided against running again, citing medical problems.
Until Tuesday, the district had no House representation since the new Congress convened on Jan. 3.
Murphy, a state legislator and physician, easily defeated Democratic challenger Allen Thomas in a solidly Republican coastal district. He replaces Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who died in February during his 25th year in office.
Democrats now control the House over Republicans, 235-199, with one independent.
A fresh vacancy will occur Monday, when Wisconsin GOP Rep. Sean Duffy leaves Congress. The five-term veteran announced his resignation last month, citing a desire for more family time.
Republicans are expected to retain that seat. No date for a special election to replace Duffy has been set.