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Trump to the Rescue (Maybe) in North Carolina

Democrats see opportunities, but GOP won’t go down without a fight

President Donald Trump, here at a campaign rally in 2016, was in Montana again on Thursday night. And he made Social Security a midterm election issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump, here at a campaign rally in 2016, was in Montana again on Thursday night. And he made Social Security a midterm election issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — When Donald Trump travels to North Carolina this week, it won’t be for one of the campaign-style rallies that are his oxygen — especially needed now when the air is filled with praise for his nemesis John McCain, who is being lauded in death in terms the president can only dream about.

This Friday in Charlotte, host of the 2020 GOP convention and with the Trump National Golf Club not that far away in Mooresville, the president is scheduled to make a lunchtime appearance at a country club for an audience of those willing and able to pay at least $1,000 ($25,000 will get you admission to a “roundtable” and a photograph with Trump). It is a party with a purpose: to raise enough cash to keep two possibly vulnerable House seats in Republicans hands.

Part two of the planned trip is a public appearance at a campus of Central Piedmont Community College to deliver remarks and sign an executive order on retirement security. Expect a good mood if GOP coffers and hopes get a midday boost for crucial contests in the state.

All over the map

That mission is now a little more precarious since federal judges have ruled that several carefully gerrymandered North Carolina districts don’t pass the smell test. Though primaries have already been held, the court has asked all parties in the case to file briefs no later than Friday proposing alternative solutions. Some fixes the court has itself floated include holding primaries on Nov. 6 under a new map and general elections before January, or no primaries at all.

The state GOP conveniently provided motive and intent for its deeds, when Republican state Rep. David Lewis said he would have gone further had it been possible: “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” He said he “drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

It worked, with a current 10-3 Republican delegation and GOP supermajorities in the state House and Senate, despite the party winning only 53 percent of the statewide popular vote in 2016. 

The GOP-controlled state legislature could take another crack at redrawing the maps it had already redrawn after a finding of racial gerrymandering. But judges are skeptical. “To begin, the General Assembly made no discernible effort to take advantage of the previous opportunity we afforded it to draw a plan that cures the partisan gerrymander,” the court wrote. Expect North Carolina Republicans to fight back, perhaps taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

But Democrats, even with the present maps, were hopeful they could make some progress in the midterms in the 9th and 13th districts, with their candidates outraising their GOP opponents in the most recent fundraising quarter.

Watch: No More Blue Wave Metaphors: 2018 Is About Too Many GOP Fires

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In the 9th, which stretches from southeast Charlotte to Fayetteville, Democrat Dan McCready, a business owner and Marine veteran, faces former Baptist pastor Mark Harris, who defeated Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger in the May primary. Harris has drawn some controversy for views, expressed in sermons and speeches, that women should submit fully to their husbands and that homosexuality is a choice. Trump carried the district by 12 points in 2016, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican

In the 13th, which backed Trump by 9 points, Democrat Kathy Manning is challenging GOP freshman Ted Budd, a member of the Freedom Caucus. Inside Elections rates the race Leans Republican.

If either or both of these seats flip on election night, it would be a sign that the Democrats’ desired blue wave really did wash over the GOP’s hopes of maintaining House control.

But wait …

Republicans won’t give up without a fight, though, so it makes sense that Trump will be adding his own pugnacious voice. In North Carolina, where conflict is the go-to move, the president will fit right in. The state legislature has done everything it can to strip power from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper since he was sworn in last year — and that was after the defeated GOP incumbent Pat McCrory dragged out accepting the results.

Amendments added to the North Carolina fall ballot that continued that process managed the miraculous feat of bringing together five past governors, of both parties, in opposition. After another court battle, reworded versions may make it on the ballot, as well as yet another effort to bring strict voter ID to the state. Recent voting restrictions were tossed out by courts for targeting minority voters with “almost surgical precision,” but it takes more than that to deter North Carolina Republicans. Stay tuned.

If you guessed that all the court rulings have spurred threats by a state GOP leader to impeach the judges who decided them, you would be sadly correct.

This might be the one state that could outdo Trump in the drama department.

North Carolinians searching for peace can only hope that Donald Trump in his brief visit will avoid voicing an opinion on the fate of “Silent Sam,” the Confederate memorial hoisted with racist speechifying in 1913 during the Jim Crow era, toppled by protesters on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, and now ensconced in an undisclosed location.

But given the president’s own opinions on the matter and his need to own the headlines, I wouldn’t count on it.

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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