It could be days or even weeks before we know who the winner of the presidential election will be, but I’ll still be closely following the election returns on Tuesday night, and chances are you will be as well. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we take a closer look at three East Coast House races that may give us some early clues as to how the night will unfold across the country. Each of these contests have very different dynamics, and I’ll be watching to see how the pro-gun candidate in each race is faring compared to how the districts voted in 2016. A large drop-off in support from four years ago could mean a disastrous night for the Second Amendment, but I’m more cautiously optimistic on Election eve than I was even a few weeks ago.
New York’s 21st Congressional District is represented by Republican representative and Second Amendment stalwart Elise Stefanik, and this year’s election is a rematch from 2018, when Stefanik defeated Democrat Tedra Cobb 56-42. Cobb ran as a moderate on the gun control issue, but her campaign was damaged by secret recordings of the candidate telling volunteers that she backed a ban on so-called assault weapons, but couldn’t say anything publicly because it would cost her the election.
The one poll conducted of the district in 2018 showed Stefanik leading by ten points, so she ended up overperforming by about four points in the actual election. I’m surprised that there’s been no polling of the district this election cycle, but one local political scientist says that points to the conventional wisdom that the election isn’t going to be competitive.
SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Political Science Dr. Harvey Schantz says two things stand out about the race. First is the grudge match and second is the level of advertising spending across the district. “The challenger has been able to get her message out to the public and has been able to run an expensive campaign. And so a lot depends I think on how people vote for President”
Schantz adds that there have been no polls conducted regarding the race. “That suggests to me that people are not viewing this as a competitive race.”
The district has backed Republicans for more than a century, but in 2009, ’10 and ’12 Democrat Bill Owens was elected, and President Barack Obama carried the district twice.
If Stefanik looks like she’s in trouble, or Tedra Cobb keeps Stefanik’s lead down to single digits, that could be a canary in the coal mine for rural turnout. If Stefanik matches or increases her 2018 margin, on the other hand, I’d view that as a sign that rural conservatives are energized to vote, even in a solid-blue state like New York.
Virginia’s 7th Congressional District is another race to keep an eye on in the early returns. The race between first-term Democrat Abigail Spanberger and her Republican challenger, Del. Nick Freitas, could be one of the closest in the country, and the gun owner vote could be absolutely crucial. Spanberger won the district over incumbent Republican Dave Brat in 2018 by a narrow 50.3-48.4 margin, which amounted to less than 7,000 votes overall. Spanberger was aided in 2018 by Everytown for Gun Safety, but she’s not brought up Joe Biden’s gun control agenda on the campaign trail, and Freitas has been courting the votes of Second Amendment supporters throughout the campaign.
There are a lot of gun owners in the 7th District, and it’s home to many counties that adopted Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions in the wake of the Democratic takeover of the Virginia state legislature in 2019. Will those gun owners turn out in numbers large enough to send Spanberger packing after one term, or will the suburbs stick with Democrats, as we saw in the last election?
Finally, I’m going to be watching North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District closely on Tuesday night. This is Mark Meadows old seat, and it’s R+14 according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Trump won the district over Clinton 62-34, and Meadows won his 2018 election by more than 20 points. Meadows resigned his seat to become Trump’s chief of staff, however, and this year Madison Cawthorn, the 25-year old Republican candidate, has actually trailed Democrat Morris Davis in the only two polls of the race that have been conducted since September.
Some of the competitiveness can be attributed to an unexpected court-mandated redistricting. Last year’s redraw of the district united the city of Asheville, a liberal enclave in the conservative-leaning mountainous region of the state. But even under the new lines, Trump would have carried this district by 17 points in 2016.
Cawthorn’s grassroots support was apparent at an early-voting rally that drew a crowd of nearly three dozen here Tuesday outside the Buncombe County GOP’s strip-mall headquarters. Some people arrived in a black truck plastered with QAnon conspiracy theory stickers. The candidate was greeted enthusiastically and posed for pictures. He had attendees cheering in agreement when he lambasted “the cowardice” of the GOP and laughing when he asked a couple of older women in Trump visors if they were college freshmen.
During an interview later that evening in a makeshift Zoom studio at his campaign office, Cawthorn detailed his gripes with the Republican Party, which he said is mostly right on policy but struggles to sell its vision.
On immigration, “we come across extremely xenophobic,” he said. “When we say we want a secure border — it sounds like, ‘Oh, well. It’s because you don’t like people that are brown.’” On health care, the GOP has offered nothing: “I’m a pretty astute person. When they say repeal and replace, I have absolutely zero idea what they plan to replace Obamacare with.”
“We should be thought leaders in America,” he said. “And, you know, we shouldn’t even be in these large social-issue debates with the Democratic Party.”
Redistricting will make this a closer race than 2018, as will the fact that it’s an open seat. On the Second Amendment, Davis has embraced universal background checks and red flag laws, while backing the idea of subjecting owners of “military-style assault weapon” to restrictive licensing requirements. Davis has the support of Everytown for Gun Safety even though he falls short of backing the Biden/Harris gun ban now, because they know he’ll likely go along with any and every gun control bill that Nancy Pelosi decides to push if he’s elected.
With polls showing Davis ahead in a district that’s still pretty Republican, I’m going to watch this race closely to see just how out of whack the polling might have been. If Cawthorn pulls out to a comfortable lead, even in the single digits, it will be an indication that pollsters got 2020 just as wrong as they did 2016.
No one House can provide a perfect snapshot of how the overall election will go, but these three races could give us a good idea of how rural/suburban voters are turning out, if Republican support is holding steady or losing ground compared to 2016, and just how off some of the pre-election polling might have been.