WNC Politics Roundup: Polls, Delays, And What It Means Having No Member Of Congress

Apr 26, 2020

Most of Western North Carolina is going through the COVID-19 pandemic without a member of Congress following the resignation of Mark Meadows on March 30th to become President Donald Trump's chief of staff.  That means the 11th Congressional District seat for North Carolina is vacant - and will remain that way for most if not all of the rest of 2020.

A special election to fill the remainder of Meadows' term has yet to be set.  But if precedent holds for special elections in even numbered years for Congressional seats, it will take place on the same day of the General Election, which in 2020 is November 3rd.  The matchup for a full-term starting 2021 would also in all likelihood be the special election matchup too, and it will now take a bit longer to find what that will be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The runoff election for the GOP nomination in the 1th - between Lynda Bennett and Madison Cawthorn - was pushed back from May 12th to June 23rd.  Neither hit the 30% needed to avoid a runoff in March 3rd primary.  Democrat Moe Davis did, and will be his party's nominee in the fall.

BPR's Matt Bush spoke with Western Carolina University political scientist Dr. Chris Cooper about these topics, plus several others - including two April polls from Civitas and PPP that show similar results for two races this fall, while vastly different results for another.  Listen to the whole interview above.

EXCERPTS OF THE INTERVIEW -

What does it mean to have no member of Congress? - "First of course, it means there is nobody voting for the interests of the district.  In addition, when people have constituency service requests or case work requests, it's not real obvious who to go to.  If you go to the Congressional website, and you look up the 11th Congressional district (for North Carolina) it says vacant.  It's the House of Representatives clerk's office that handles all these requests.  So, it confuses constituents about who they should go to.  

How much worse does the COVID-19 pandemic make this? - "This is obviously a critical time for government.  (The pandemic) has shown us why government matters, why the federal government matters, why state government matters.  So not having somebody in place now during a confusing time when we are all depending on goverment...it likely erodes trust in government in general and takes a region of the state that has tended to feel removed from the halls of power and makes that even more so."

How will the delay of the runoff election for the GOP nomination in the 11th District affect the race? - "We would expect very low voter turnout.  In 2012 there was a runoff in the 11th on the Republican side between Mark Meadows and Vance Patterson in Meadows' first run for office.  About 23% of those who voted in the primary that year voted in the runoff (turnout for the GOP primary in 2020 was a similar to 2012).  My expectation is that we will see numbers probably below that, probably beneath 20% of the primary turnout.  Because of COVID-19, how logistically people are going to vote, and the information environment, which is being taken up right now because of COVID-19 and not the runoff."