News: CJ Exclusives

Candidate appealing to the center key to 9th District win, experts say

9th Congressional District candidates Dan Bishop (R), left, and Dan McCready (D). (CJ file photo of Bishop; McCready photo from campaign Facebook page)
9th Congressional District candidates Dan Bishop (R), left, and Dan McCready (D). (CJ file photo of Bishop; McCready photo from campaign Facebook page)

The 9th Congressional District race, one political expert says, may come down to voters’ perception of which candidate has moved closer to the center.

State Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, won a crowded Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District seat. Bishop got 14,361 votes, or 47.7% of the total ballots cast May 14. Just 9.68% of the district’s eligible voters cast ballots.

Bishop faces Democratic candidate Dan McCready, Green Party candidate Allen Smith, and Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott in a special election Sept. 10.

Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said Bishop and McCready will work to put their opponent on a political polar cap.

“Bishop is already trying to portray McCready as being a radical on the left, and McCready is already trying to portray Bishop as a radical on the right,” Cooper said.

The results didn’t surprise Cooper.

“Those of us who watch North Carolina politics knew this was really the establishment candidate winning a primary, which is not in of itself surprising,” Cooper said. “The turnout was a little lower than I thought it would be.”

Cooper said the margin by which Bishop won is notable, however. Stony Rushing got 19.4% or 5,854 votes May 14. Matthew Ridenhour got 17.2%, or 5,154 votes. The remaining seven Republican candidates received less than 10% of the vote.

“With this big of a field, if you can pull almost 50% of the vote, that’s a resounding victory,” Cooper said. “To some degree that’s an interesting result. I think it shows we can talk all we want about how Donald Trump has changed politics, but the reality is the establishment candidates tend to do a lot better.”

McCready has based much of his campaign on his status as a Marine Corps veteran and small-business owner.

Not much else, Bishop has said.

“Dan McCready went through two elections without telling anyone where he stood on anything — that ends tomorrow,” Bishop said, per a Charlotte Observer story. “Voters in the 9th District deserve a clear choice in this race, and we’re going to give them one.”

Bishop’s track record, particularly his connection to House Bill 2 — the controversial “bathroom bill” — will play a role, if comments from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are any indication. A news release from the group says Bishop squandered $3.76 billion from the state’s economy.

“That has been the impact of Senator Bishop’s political career, and it underscores the choice families living in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District face this September,” Cole Leiter, DCCC National Press Secretary, wrote in the release.

Bishop, in an ad on his website, boasts of being “pro life, pro gun, and pro law.” He calls McCready and other Democrats socialists and radicals “who hate the values that make America great.”

In a news conference, reported by SpectrumNews, McCready said, “We need to be lowering health care costs, protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, investing in our public schools, defending Medicare, and creating good jobs,” McCready said.

It’s been more than a half-century since the 9th District elected a Democrat.

Republican candidate Mark Harris unofficially won the 9th District election in November against McCready, but the N.C. State Board of Elections refused to certify the results because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud. A subsequent investigation led to the arrest of several people on election fraud charges and, thus, a new special election.

The more people talk about the absentee ballot fraud investigation the more it benefits McCready and hurts Bishop, Cooper says.

“McCready is going to try and make it play into this race,” Cooper said. “He’s going to try to tar Bishop as part of this larger conspiracy.”  

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, said a big question is whether the 2019 electorate will mirror voters of 2018.

“In elections held around the country in 2018, Republican candidates generally lagged behind traditional performance levels, as is typical of midterm elections, where members of the out-of-power party (in this case Democrats) are more motivated than the in-power party (in this case Republicans), and voters tend to penalize in-power party candidates,” Dinan said.

“In the aftermath of the Democrats’ takeover of the House of Representatives, voters are now reacting not just to a Republican president, but may also be comparing a Republican president with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives,” Dinan said.

McCready has a big edge in contributions, having raised almost $1.9 million since Jan. 1, according to federal elections filings. Bishop has raised about $560,000.