A close race to fill North Carolina’s 9th District U.S. House seat may offer a preview of the 2020 election when Democrats in swing districts will try to distance themselves from their party’s leftward swing.
Dan McCready, a Democrat, is vying to flip a seat long held by Republicans when he faces off against state Sen. Dan Bishop in a Sept. 10 special election.
“This is a test drive,” North Carolina political strategist Lawrence Shaheen told the Washington Examiner. “The messages that Dan Bishop and Dan McCready are using will be mirrored by the messages of the national parties, ultimately, in 2020.”
McCready, an Iraq War veteran, is running as a moderate who has pledged to vote independently no matter the demands of the House Democratic leadership led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California. His campaign slogan is “Country over Party,” and he touts his background as a Marine and small business owner.
“When I built a business or served in the Marines, we never cared if you were a Democrat or a Republican,” McCready told voters in campaign literature. “We cared about getting the job done. It’s time we had new leaders who put country over party — and got the job done for North Carolina families.”
House Democrats elected from swing districts are poised to align their strategy with McCready’s.
Democrats are defending three dozen seats in competitive districts, many of them won by defeating Republicans in 2018.
They are at risk of losing reelection in 2020 in part because the Democratic Party and the presidential field has swerved to the left of their own constituents on major policy issues such as healthcare and climate change.
The Democratic Party has staunchly opposed President Trump, dogging him with impeachment threats since he took office.
The North Carolina contest will offer a preview of those other races, Bishop told the Washington Examiner in an interview Tuesday.
“I think it’s a race with national implications,” Bishop said.
Bishop pointed to the flood of money dumped into the race from left-leaning groups and noted his own robust support of the president, a scenario that is likely to play out in other 2020 competitive seats as Trump works to help Republicans win back swing districts that favor his presidency.
“I think I’ll win, and I think it will be a good indicator that support remains strong for President Trump and that people are tired of the resistance and the effort to destroy him.”
While the 9th District has remained in Republican hands for decades and elected Trump by 12 points, some of the district, particularly in the Mecklenburg area, is beginning to shift to the Democrats.
Recent polls show McCready and Bishop neck-and-neck.
“It’s the most swing district in the state,” Shaheen said.
Republicans came into the race damaged by charges of election fraud and ballot tempering in 2018 that led the North Carolina State Board of Elections to disqualify results that narrowly favored GOP candidate Mark Harris over McCready.
And while McCready has been campaigning for two years, Bishop has been in the race for only about six months, since winning the GOP primary.
When it comes to campaign funding, McCready has far out-raised and out-spent Bishop.
“Obviously McCready had a head start in this election,” Republican strategist Dee Stewart told the Washington Examiner.
Trump will hold a rally in Fayetteville for Bishop on Sept. 9, a day before the election.
The president’s appearance may be critical in part because North Carolina does not typically hold any kind of election in September and voters may not be aware of it.
Turnout will be critical for Bishop in the GOP-leaning district.
“A day before the election is probably the prefect timing actually,” Stewart said of Trump’s planned rally. “Nobody knows how to draw media attention the way president does.”
Bishop, meanwhile, is working to tie McCready with the left wing of the party and to convince voters that his opponent’s pledge to remain a moderate if he’s elected to the House isn’t realistic.
“I think it’s a deception, it’s a scam,” Bishop told the Washington Examiner.
McCready, for instance, opposed a Bishop-backed measure to expand association health insurance plans, which provide coverage for small businesses and other groups.
McCready also supports expanding Medicaid in the state, while Bishop backs repealing Obamacare.
“Pick a policy, and to the extent you can get him to make a comment about the specifics, he goes along with Nancy Pelosi,” Bishop said.
The McCready campaign has not yet responded to an interview request.
The election will take place just days after Hurricane Dorian barrels up the East Coast.
The impact on North Carolina remains uncertain, but officials are urging early voting, which has so far has favored Democrats.