RALEIGH, N.C. — Vacancies in two of North Carolina 13 congressional seats - one caused by a congressman's death and the other by a ballot fraud probe - should be finally filled after results of Tuesday's special elections are tallied.
Candidates in the 3rd and 9th Congressional Districts had to overcome Hurricane Dorian and shuttered voting sites to keep politicking in the campaigns' final days. And visits on Monday to North Carolina by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence - their second during the campaigns - emphasize the importance of the races.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
Representation for citizens in one-quarter of North Carolina's 100 counties who have lacked it for most or all of 2019.
Republicans have long held both seats, with the south-central 9th District continuously in GOP hands since 1963. And Republican Rep. Walter Jones Jr. represented the coastal 3rd District seat for 24 years before he died in February. Primaries were held in April, May, and July.
Tuesday's outcome will help gauge support for President Donald Trump and signal his re-election vulnerability or resilience. Both Republican nominees have saddled up closely to the president. Democrats are hopeful they can flip a seat and build confidence for 2020.
The 9th District race also brings some finality to the electoral process after months of uncertainty that started with accusations of absentee ballot irregularities. State election officials ordered a re-do of last November's election after a hearing detailing evidence of fraud focused upon a political operative associated with the 2018 Republican nominee, who did not run this year.
Voters are deciding between Democrat Dan McCready, Republican Dan Bishop and two other candidates in the 9th District, which is anchored by Charlotte and moves east along the South Carolina border through small-town and rural communities.
McCready, an Iraq War veteran and renewable energy investment executive, ran again for the seat after finishing second in last November's election, the results of which got thrown out. He's been a prolific fundraiser and promoted himself as a centrist under the "country over party" mantra.
Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop may have been best known before the race as an author of the state's 2016 "bathroom bill" involving transgender people. That law is now off the books. National Republican groups have helped close his fundraising gap with McCready by running their own television ads attacking the Democrat.
Trump won the district by 11 percentage points in 2016, but this race has been considered a toss-up.
The race for Jones' successor will be between Republican state legislator and physician Greg Murphy and Democrat Allen Thomas, a former mayor of Greenville. Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates also are on the ballot.
Trump won the district's votes by 24 percentage points, and many in the socially conservative region remain strongly committed to him. Murphy told Trump supporters that if elected he would "have our president's back."
Thomas has criticized Murphy's blind loyalty to Trump. But like McCready, Thomas doesn't support impeachment proceedings against the president. Unlike the 9th District, outside spending in the 3rd District general election has been essentially zero, a reflection that a Thomas victory would be an upset.
Trump and Pence already visited the state in July for a rally in Greenville, where Trump endorsed both GOP candidates. But it was also there that Trump angered some as he verbally attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is Muslim and a Somali refugee. In response, some supporters chanted, "Send her back!"
Trump also disappointed others for using profanities that contained the name of God. Thomas wrote a letter to Trump criticizing his "racial statements" and for "using the Lord's name in vain" at the rally.
Early in-person voting in the two districts got interrupted last week as Hurricane Dorian brought high winds and heavy rains to eastern North Carolina. Early voting sites in all 3rd District counties and half of the 9th District counties were closed from one to three days while the storm passed.
The state elections director used her emergency powers to extend early voting into the weekend for most of the affected counties, but it didn't make up for all the lost time.
Voters can cast ballots at traditional voting precincts on Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., but they'll have to be already registered for their choice to count. Same-day registration is allowed only during early voting.