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Candidates In NC's 9th Congressional District Race Engaged In Hard-Edged Battle

Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

Dan McCready has been campaigning for more than two years, a period the Democratic candidate said he measures in kids.

"My oldest is eight and my youngest, Eleanor, just turned two a few weeks ago," McCready told a crowd of about two dozen supporters gathered recently at a newly opened campaign office in the Richmond County town of Hamlet. "She was born after we started this campaign, which shows you how long we’ve been going."

There are two weeks left in the race to fill one of only two vacant seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The other seat is also in North Carolina, the Third Congressional District, vacated by the death of longtime Rep. Walter Jones.

McCready, the Democrat who fell just short of winning the 2018 election against Republican Mark Harris, faces Republican Dan Bishop this time around.

The Ninth District is shaped like a golf putter and stretches eastward from Charlotte to Robeson and Bladen counties. It crosses eight counties total, including Cumberland and Union.

The state elections board refused to certify the 2018 race, however, and called for a new one after finding a Harris campaign contractor oversaw an absentee ballot tampering operation.

"It’s just shameful," said Lois Jones, a local Democratic Party leader in Richmond County who attended the gathering at McCready's campaign office. "You know, you think elections are free or honest but we’re finding out that they’re not, from the 2016 election to this election, and I think it's going to motivate more people just to come out."

McCready is casting himself as a middle-of-the-road, moderate voice rising above the divisive rhetoric dominating the national political scene and embraced by the president.

"I think that we need a leader in Washington who will work with both sides of the aisle on common sense reforms to lower health care cost," he told his gathered supporters.

McCready supports fixing Obamacare, not Medicare for All.

"I'm calling for legislation that exempts primary care from high-deductible plans. I think that we should legislate that it should not cost more than $25 or $30 to go see a primary care physician." he said.

And when it comes to guns, McCready, a Marine and combat veteran, said he supports common-sense solutions that can draw bipartisan support. In other words, he is not calling for an assault weapons ban but does want comprehensive background checks and to close loopholes for gun show sales.

Nonetheless, Bishop is doing everything he can to link McCready to progressive congressional democrats demonized by the right.

Credit Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
Republican candidate Dan Bishop, in his Charlotte home. Behind him is a cardboard cutout of Dan McCready, his Democratic opponent in the Ninth Congressional District race. Bishop has used the cutout in attack ads.

Bishop is running an ad where the faces of McCready, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Maxine Waters are super-imposed on inflated clown dolls. And Bishop refers to his targets as crazy clowns.

"What I mean to communicate in that ad, with a little bit of a smile on my face," explained Bishop, in an interview in his suburban Charlotte home, "is we’re, in my lifetime, in a unique moment when the policy prescriptions, and so forth, that come from the Democratic Party are so extraordinarily out of the mainstream that I’m confident that Americans will reject them."

But Bishop claimed he and President Trump are not the instigators of divisive political attacks, Trump's 2016 anti-Clinton chant of "lock her up" notwithstanding.

"He’s maybe better at tough, really tough, confrontational rhetoric than anyone before," Bishop said of the president, "he fights in a way that no one else has but he responds to a moment in which the left has been the most vicious and the most attacking."

Bishop is banking on billing himself as a full-throated Trump backer.

"I think that people are interested, in this district, in illegal immigration on the southern border, I think they're interested in Second Amendment rights, I think they're interested in the right to life and I think they're interested in whether someone is gonna support the president," Bishop said.

So Bishop said, if elected to Congress, he will help build Trump's wall on the southern border. And he questioned the benefits of closing loopholes for gun show sales.

"Gun rights advocates fear that the purpose is to create a national gun registry and that would be the first step in a multi-step plan to confiscate weapons," Bishop said.

The candidates meet Wednesday in a televised debate. No matter what happens in the September 10th general election, they could turn around and fight a rematch when the term ends next year.

This story has been corrected. An earlier version mistakenly sai that Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party member Allen Smith would take part in the debates. They did not.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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