CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Voters in a North Carolina battleground district are poised to pick a new member of Congress and send an early message about the state of the 2020 presidential race on Tuesday, streaming to the polls for a rare do-over election following a 2018 race marred by allegations of fraud.
Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop spent Election Day hunting for votes that could tip a razor-close race in Charlotte and its suburbs, home to a majority of voters in the 9th Congressional District. McCready told supporters Tuesday morning here that the race is “really close” — but that a victory would “send a shockwave across this entire country.”
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“A lot of people want to talk about 2020,” McCready said Tuesday morning. “Let me tell you right now — you want to win in 2020? Let’s go win this race tonight.”
Bishop, meanwhile, said outside a suburban polling place in Union County, a Republican stronghold, that President Donald Trump’s election-eve rally in Fayetteville on Monday would put him over the top.
“I think I’m going to win,” said Bishop, calling Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who also headlined events for Bishop on Monday, “enormously helpful” to his campaign.
McCready and Bishop are battling for the still-vacant seat after the 2018 election result — an apparent 905-vote victory for Republican Mark Harris over McCready — was thrown out after the emergence of credible evidence of election fraud committed by one of Harris’ campaign contractors. Harris declined to run in the new election ordered by the state elections board, and Bishop won the Republican nomination in a primary this spring.
Polls conducted in the run-up to the election show a tight race, and both parties say it could go either way. Democrats say the fact that the long-time GOP district is in play again is a sign the national environment has changed little since the midterms — though a Republican victory could act as a salve for a party still reeling from losing the House last November and worrying about Trump’s low job-approval ratings ahead of the 2020 election.
But if McCready wins in a district Trump carried by 12 points in the 2016 election, it would signal significant vulnerability for the president and deal a blow to the GOP’s hopes of winning back the House majority next year.
There is also a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District on Tuesday, where Republican Greg Murphy and Democrat Allen Thomas are competing to succeed the late GOP Rep. Walter Jones, who died earlier this year. But that heavily Republican district has attracted far less attention — and money — than the Bishop-McCready race.
The contest between Bishop and McCready has attracted more than $10 million in outside spending, the second-most ever for a special election for the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee and Congressional Leadership Fund, the leading pro-GOP super PAC for House races, have combined to spend more than $5 million.
Democratic groups have also engaged, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority Forward, a nonprofit group linked to Democratic leaders, each spending more than $1 million.
Before the polls even closed, some Republicans on Capitol Hill were lowering expectations and already lining up scapegoats in case Bishop falters.
“What’s amazing is that we’re competitive in that district. The other guy has now raised and spent over $10 million. I don’t even know how the heck we’re competitive,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who chaired the NRCC during the 2018 election. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we won it; I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost it. But that’s okay, given that the other guy is so well known and our guy is brand new, and we’re burying the taint of scandal of November. And we’re still in it. I’m amazed we’re still in it.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who traveled to North Carolina with Trump on Air Force One Monday night, warned against reading too much into the results of the race. “Special elections are just what they are: special,” McCarthy told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
McCready, a Marine veteran running in a district that hasn’t gone Democratic since the early 1960s, has campaigned since 2017 as a bipartisan figure who wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker.
This year, McCready has focused on health care, pledging to “fix” the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Asked Tuesday about some of the health care proposals among Democrats’ 2020 presidential candidates, McCready called some of them “crazy” ideas.
“I think there’s a lot of crazy, aspirational stuff coming out of those presidential debates,” the Democrat said. All we got to do is stand up to the drug companies, stand up to the special interests. We got to fix Obamacare — we got to fix the problems in the system.”
But Bishop — who says he’ll be a strong supporter of Trump and his agenda if elected — has sought to link McCready to prominent Democratic liberals. He cited contributions McCready has received from billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose money McCready returned. (According to Federal Election Commission filings, Omar donated $2,000 to McCready on Nov. 6 of last year, and McCready refunded the donation on March 30 of this year.)
“That’s where his money’s coming from,” Bishop said. “That doesn’t happen if those people believe he’s a force for moderation. So I suggest — have suggested — that it’s kind of a scam. It’s sort of a phony presentation and a way to flip a seat blue.”
Jake Sherman in Indian Trail, N.C., and Melanie Zanona in Washington contributed to this report.