What has long been rumored is now reality – Western North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Meadows will become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. The move will likely leave his seat in Congress vacant for eight months if not longer.
Traditionally, congressional special elections held in even numbered years when the position is already on the ballot take place on general election day to save costs. If that happens for the 11th Congressional District in 2020, the seat would then be vacant until November. The governor's office has the power to set special election dates, and no announcment has been made yet.
Meadows departure is just latest in what has been quite a two-year cycle for the 11th. First, its boundaries were redrawn for the 2020 election at court order after judges ruled North Carolina Republicans illegally gerrymandered Congressional districts across the state partisan gain. The 11th now includes all of the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, ensuring all of the westernmost part of North Carolina is now in the same district. The new lines also add a sizable number of Democratic voters to what was a very safe Republican district.
The rest of the saga shows the importance of 'strategic timing' in politics according to Western Carolina University political scientist Dr. Chris Cooper. "Obviously the timing of Meadows (retirement) decision created the field of candidates we had (in last week's primary)", says Cooper. Meadows announced on the morning of December 19th he would not run for a fifth term, amid speculation he’d take a job in the Trump administration. That announcement came the day before candidate filing for the March primary concluded. The short time frame did not stop 11 Republicans from declaring their candidacies. That massive field ensured that no one came close to the 30% needed in last week's primary to avoid a runoff. That means on May 12th, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff for the GOP nomination - Lynda Bennett (who received Meadows' endorsement) and Madison Cawthorn. The winner faces Democrat Moe Davis for a full term starting in January.
Since party executive committee choose candidates for special elections, a similar matchup for the rest of Meadows' term could on the fall ballot as a special election as well, but only for those voting in the old 11th boundaries.