News: CJ Exclusives

Tightly contested race for open seat in 9th Congressional District seen as national bellwether

U.S. House District 9 (Anson, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland, Union, and parts of Mecklenburg, Bladen, and Cumberland counties.)

  • Mark Harris, Republican. Occupation: Pastor. Education: Appalachian State University, political science degree. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, master’s and doctor of ministry degrees. Career highlights: North Carolina Baptist Convention president; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Directors chairman; led 2012 campaign to pass Amendment One state ban on same-sex marriage.
  • Dan McCready, Democrat. Occupation: Small business owner. Education: Duke University, bachelor’s degree. Harvard Business School, Master’s of Business Administration. Career highlights: Marine Corps captain. N.C. Sustainable Energy Association board member. Founded now-idled This Land small business for handmade crafts. Co-founder Double Time Capital, a solar investment company.
  • Jeff Scott, Libertarian. Occupation: Business intelligence development and technology consultant. Education: San Francisco State University, degrees in economics and statistics. Career highlights: Adjunct scholar, Mises Institute at Auburn University. Formerly Federal Home Loan Bank economist. Phi Beta Kappa honor society member.

Did 9th Congressional District Republican candidate Mark Harris get a Trump Bump from the president’s Oct. 26 Charlotte rally?

“It’s possible,” said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University. “You haven’t seen presidents campaign in midterms quite like this. Whether Harris sees a bump or not … I’m not sure.”

Harris, who lost a 2016 bid for the 9th District, and a 2014 run for the U.S. Senate, is locked in a tight race with Democratic political neophyte Dan McCready, a Marine Corps veteran and renewable energy business owner. Libertarian Jeff Scott rounds out the ballot.

It is North Carolina’s most expensive race in the Nov. 6 general election, and one of the most closely watched in the nation.

Taylor thinks it’s a bellwether.

“My sense is if McCready loses, and Harris wins, then the Dems aren’t getting the House,” Taylor said.

“Obviously the general tide is in favor of the Democrats,” he said. Since 1946 the president’s party lost an average of 25 House races in midterm elections. Democrats need to flip 23 seats to win the majority.

“McCready seems pretty suited for that district,” Taylor said, and pollsters tell him the Democrat is in good shape.

The district is about 65 percent urban, and about two-thirds of voters are white. It traces the South Carolina border, from the southern edge of Charlotte to Lumberton and north to Fayetteville.

According to Oct. 17 Federal Elections Commission campaign filings, McCready raised nearly $4.9 million and spent almost $4.6 million. Harris raised $1.8 million and spent nearly $1.7 million. Of the $5.6 million in outside spending, $3.4 million supported McCready.

Normally the power of incumbency buoys a campaign, but Harris lacks that advantage. He defeated U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by roughly 900 votes in the primary — a rematch of 2016. Taylor said Pittenger also would have had his hands full with McCready.

Harris should have one advantage: the Republicans’ grip on the seat since 1963. Pittenger won in 2016 by slightly more than 16 percent of the vote, and Trump won the district with an 11.6 percent margin.

McCready mostly avoids discussing President Trump in his campaign. Harris has embraced him. Trump has visited Charlotte twice to stump for Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-13th District.

Taylor isn’t sure the large rallies are a gauge of enthusiasm for Harris or Budd.

“I think they’re coming to see the president, and if they’re thinking about the congressional race they’re already on board,” he said, while allowing in a race this close the president’s presence could tip the outcome.

“Mark Harris is another true fighter for North Carolina,” Trump said during his most recent Charlotte rally.

“He will vote to protect your jobs, and cut regulations like never before,” Trump said. “He will vote to save your health care, secure our border, and stop illegal immigration.”

Harris and McCready engaged in two publicly televised debates in October. The Oct. 17 event threw more sparks.

McCready said Republican ads unveiled “an opponent who is lying, and his friends who are levying misleading, and dark, and nasty attacks.”

“This race took a very dark turn when Mr. McCready began to run ads that accused me of saying things in messages, and pulling things out of context, and using those things to try to smear me,” said Harris, former pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church.

McCready said men and women are equally valuable and capable, but Harris questions whether women should have careers, or be home cooking, sewing buttons, and responding to their husbands’ needs as servant lovers.

Harris said McCready was taking a biblically based Mother’s Day sermon about the husband- wife relationship from five years ago out of context. He said he told his women congregants they are fortunate to live in a time when they can be whatever they want — a corporate CEO, working in the operating room or the classroom. He said he never called for women to give up their careers, but said after they have children their maternal instincts drive them to do what’s in the best interest of their children.

In their Oct. 10 debate Harris repeatedly tied McCready to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who’s likely to become House Speaker if Democrats sweep into power.

“I would not vote for Nancy Pelosi” for House Speaker, McCready said. “I wouldn’t vote for Paul Ryan either” because new leadership is needed to bridge Washington’s partisan divide.

“I have not taken a dime from Nancy Pelosi,” McCready said. “I’m starting to believe, Mark, that you think you’re running against Nancy Pelosi.”

“Sometimes it feels like I am since she has spent $350,000 in ads against me,” Harris said, citing independent expenditures in the district. He called McCready naïve if he thinks Pelosi wouldn’t call in that favor if McCready wins and Democrats control the House.

McCready said several times Washington needs to work in a greater spirit of bipartisanship, rather than walk in lockstep with party leaders. Harris said McCready is a liberal masquerading as a conservative.

McCready said he opposes expanding Medicare to provide universal health care coverage. He wants to combat special interests, lobbyists, drug companies, and insurance companies to lower health care costs.

Harris said McCready supports Obamacare, which took $760 billion from Medicare, and created funding holes in the government insurance program for the elderly.

McCready said America needs a secure border, but the family separation policies should end. Immigrants here without papers should be offered a chance to get right with the law. But they shouldn’t qualify for citizenship before other applicants who have followed a legal process.

“No more ripping kids away from their parents at the border,” he said.

Harris said Trump offered a compromise plan that included a border wall and a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, but Democrats opposed it. He supports a border wall, ending chain migration and the visa lottery, implementing e-verify systems, and finding a way to vet and provide legal status to undocumented immigrants.

Harris said the special counsel investigation of President Trump should wrap up quickly. If there’s evidence of Russian collusion — the original narrow scope of the probe — it should be brought forward. Otherwise it’s wrong to allow the investigation to hamstring the Trump administration for four years.

McCready would not say whether he would vote with congressional Democrats to impeach Trump. He said his decision would depend on facts and evidence.

Libertarian Scott did not participate in either debate. His campaign website says he is the only anti-war candidate. He supports reductions in military spending and foreign arms sales, and limits on NATO expansion. He opposes government picking economic winners and losers. He favors requiring a balanced budget focused on spending limits, and applying federal insider trading laws to members of Congress. He supports harsh penalties for government misuse of private information and warrantless surveillance.