FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — President Trump campaigned Monday in North Carolina in support of a Republican House candidate on the eve of a special election that could give early clues about the president’s political strength going into the 2020 campaign.
Dan Bishop, a state senator and staunch conservative well known for sponsoring a bill requiring transgender people to use restrooms based on the gender listed on their birth certificates, faces a tough race in a typically Republican district that Mr. Trump carried by 12 points in 2016.
A victory by his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, would suggest that Mr. Trump and his party are facing dangerous levels of unhappiness among independent suburban voters in the Ninth Congressional District, which stretches from the suburbs of Charlotte to rural and exurban areas farther east.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Bishop, who joined him briefly onstage, framed the race as a crucial stand against what the president called “radical socialism” and a Democratic Party-aligned “fake news” media bent on his defeat.
“To stop the far left, you must vote in tomorrow’s special election,” Mr. Trump told cheering supporters here. “Tomorrow is your chance to send a message to the America-hating left.”
Mr. Trump accused Mr. McCready of supporting so-called sanctuary city policies that would require the legal system to release “hardened, horrible criminals” across the state. He also warned that Mr. McCready “is not going to support your Second Amendment.”
Mr. McCready is a Marine combat veteran who has said in the past that he does not support Speaker Nancy Pelosi and whose motto is “country over party.”
Before leaving Washington to appear with Mr. Bishop at a rally at the Crown Expo Center in Fayetteville, Mr. Trump expressed optimism about the race.
“If you look at the numbers from two weeks ago, and I got involved about two weeks ago, and the numbers have gone way up,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump’s push for Mr. Bishop is part of a wider administration effort on his behalf that also included a visit on Monday to the other end of the district by Vice President Mike Pence. Both Democrats and Republicans have poured millions of dollars into the race.
The special election was called after the Republican candidate in the 2018 election, Mark Harris, was embroiled in an illegal vote-harvesting scandal. Last November, North Carolina officials refused to certify the results of the race between Mr. McCready and Mr. Harris because of “irregularities” in the balloting.
A monthslong investigation concluded in February that the Republicans had engaged in an illegal voter-turnout effort, prompting officials to overturn the results and set a new election. Mr. Harris withdrew from the contest, setting off a crowded Republican primary race that Mr. Bishop won. So in effect, Mr. McCready has been campaigning for the seat for 27 straight months.
That the conservative district is up for grabs at all is a concern for Republicans, and the president’s appearance in the state on the eve of the election highlighted that. Mr. Trump carried North Carolina by less than four points in 2016.
“If North Carolina suburbs are transitioning from a solid Republican base to a more ‘competitive’ region,” Mike Bitzer, a Catawba College professor, wrote in an election preview, “then the Ninth Congressional District may be a potential test case for whether this gives any indication as to the reaction by suburban voters to the president’s actions over the past few weeks.”
After a week in which Mr. Trump publicly obsessed over news media criticism about his inaccurate claims about Hurricane Dorian’s potential effect and feuded with critics like the actress Debra Messing and the mayor of London, the president delivered a relatively disciplined campaign message.
In remarks that lasted about 90 minutes, Mr. Trump, with an eye toward November 2020, mostly boasted about his own record, touching on issues like health care and the opioid epidemic. At the mention of his proposed southwestern border wall, the audience chanted, “Build the wall! Build the wall.”
Mr. Trump also bragged about what he called “the greatest economy in the history of our nation.”
“More Americans are working today than ever before in the history of our country,” he said.
Mr. Trump also made his latest suggestion, albeit in a seemingly joking tone, that he wanted to serve beyond the Constitution’s limit of two presidential terms. Noting that the World Cup soccer tournament will be held in North America in 2026, after the completion of his potential second term in office, Mr. Trump said, “So we may have to go for an extra term.”
He then predicted that the news media would pillory him for the comment and would say: “He’s a dictator. We told you.”
Mr. Bishop joined the president onstage to attack “the fake news media,” which he called “the handmaidens and allies” of “socialist” Democrats.
Mr. Trump had added a stop en route to the rally — to Emerald Isle, N.C. — to survey damage from Hurricane Dorian, which battered the state’s coastline. But the tour was called off because of a new round of severe weather, leaving the president to receive a storm briefing aboard Air Force One, where he was joined by state and federal officials.
He spoke to a relatively small crowd at the 5,000-seat Crown Expo Center, an unusually modest venue for one of his rallies. He noted that he had originally hoped to hold the event in a different location, and said that he had offered to stand in the pouring rain “and get my hair soaking wet” if that would have helped to secure it.
“It’s my hair,” Mr. Trump said. “May not be great, but I will say it’s better than most of my friends who are the same age. A lot better. A lot!”
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