Tar Heel Democrat Dan McCready v. Mark Harris—Another GOP House Seat in Play May 21, 2018
Primary night May 8, 2018. Yes, the GOP, from Donald, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and on down, successfully put all its chips on keeping ex-convict Don Blankenship, a former CEO coal company head, from winning the GOP W. VA Senate primary (See vox.com, Prokop, 5/09/2018). However, as GOPers obsessed over defeating Blankenship, another race they could have been tracking “big time” basically went under “Team Red’s” radar. On that very night, Republican Mark Harris, upset third -term GOP Congressman Robert Pittenger (NY Times, Stack, 5/09/18). Harris will now be facing Democrat Dan McCready in the 11/2018 midterm election. Let’s analyze this race.
“Team Red” incumbent Robert Pittenger (69) currently represents N. Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, CD (115th Cong. At Your Fingertips). The Tar Heel 9th ‘s latest boundaries were drawn up in 2/2016 following litigation in a U.S. District Court that overturned its previous gerrymandered boundaries. The reconfigured NC 9th CD is located in that state’s south-central area. It includes Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland, and Robeson Counties. A southeast portion of Mecklenburg County and most of Cumberland and Bladen Counties are in the 9th. The Charlotte suburbs and the city of Fayetteville are part of the 9th. Charlotte is a banking and financial center where many of the 9th’s constituents work (CQ & Barone Political Almanacs 14). The 4/07/2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gives the 9th an R+8 lean. Trump thrashed Hillary here by 11.6 points (Wash. Post, Hohmann, 5/09/18).
Pittenger, an anti-gay/anti-choice NC State Senator, first won election to the House in 2012 by 6 points and was handily re-elected in 2014. In 2016, Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor, challenged Cong. Pittenger in the GOP primary. After a recount, Pittenger squeaked by with just a 134- vote margin. At that time, Pittenger was under federal investigation for allegedly transferring money to his 2012 campaign from his real estate company (NC Board of Elections, politico.com, Schneider, 5/08/18). In the House, Pittenger remained in the hard-core right camp and voted with Donald 96.4% of the time. One of the few times he went against Donald was when he voted against disaster aid for Puerto Rico (projects fivethirtyeight.com). Pittenger, a strong supporter of Trump’s 1% tax cut scam, made national headlines when he stated that tax cuts to the middle class equaled “socialism,” and falsely added that a “large majority of working Americans own stock in corporations (MSNBC, shareblue.com, 12/26/17).”
In the 2018 NC GOP primary rematch, Harris cast the primary fight as a “battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” Harris ran as much against the GOP-controlled Congress as against Pittenger. He called Cong. Pittenger part of the Washington “swamp,” which Trump was supposed to drain. Harris “hung around Pittenger’s neck” his vote for the omnibus spending bill in 3/2018, because that legislation “funded sanctuary cities and it gave no money for the president’s (U.S.-Mexico) wall (Morrill, charlotteobserver.com, 5/08/18, Schneider, Politico, 5/08/18).” The GOP “establishment” backed Pittenger, but didn’t push hard for him in the primary. They believed he would fend off Harris’ rematch challenge. In TV ads and on the stump, both Harris and Pittenger claimed to be Trump’s more loyal supporter. Harris sided with the right-wing mavericks. He suggested he’d support a co-founder of the conservative/extremist Freedom (“Freedumb”) Caucus for Speaker (charlotteobserver.com). Harris attacked Pittenger for violating a pledge to support term limits. Through mid-April 2018, Pittenger spent more than $1 million to Harris’ $500,000. Pittenger’s ads, money, and national GOP endorsements failed. Harris defeated Pittenger by a 2.3 margin, 48.5%-46.2%, a stunning upset. Cong. Pittenger became the first incumbent in the country to lose in 2018 (Morrill, charlotteobserver.com, 5/08/18, NY Times, Stack, 5/09/18).
Tar Heel 9th CD GOP nominee Mark Harris (52) was born and grew up in Winston-Salem, N. Carolina. A 1987 graduate of Appalachian State University, where he met his future wife, he initially planned to attend law school. A few weeks before his wedding, Harris heard and answered God’s “call” to enter the ministry (markharrisforcongress.com). He earned a Master’s in Divinity and a Ph.D in Christian leadership from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Before moving to Charlotte, Harris was a pastor at two Baptist churches. In 2005, Harris became pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church. While serving as Senior Pastor at Charlotte’s First Baptist, Harris was elected President of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, where he served from 2011-2013 (markharrisforcongress.com, “The Robesonian,” Shiles, 7/28/17, rollcall.com,Trygstad, K.).
Harris helped lead a successful ballot initiative that amended the state constitution in 2012 to forbid NC from performing or recognizing same-sex marriage or civil unions (NY Times, Stack, 5/09/18). Far right/social conservative Harris is a firebrand in the area of anti-LGBT activism. He was a driving force behind the passage of NC’s infamous anti-transgender “bathroom bill
(shareblue.com, Chapman, 5/09/18).” During his successful 2018 primary, Harris said he would support the nomination of Supreme Court justices willing to revisit both the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, as well as the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges opinion. Obergefell legalized same-sex marriage. Harris could care less that only U.S. Senators get to confirm Supreme Ct. justices. Even though Donald himself stated that the issue of same-sex marriage had “been settled and I’m fine with that,” Harris believes that the country has “not moved on” with abortion or same-sex marriage (Stack, NY Times) In Harris’ words, “I think values and principles that people hold don’t change. A lot of these things come back to states’ rights.” He supports states like IA which recently severely limited abortion rights. He argues that opponents of same-sex marriage should get their state legislatures to act in a similar manner. Harris also stands for repealing Obamacare (See Stack, NY Times, 5/09/18).
In the 11/06/2018 election, Harris will be facing Democrat Dan McCready. Many Democrats compare McCready to Conor Lamb. Lamb, remember, was the charismatic/good looking Marine veteran who flipped the PA 18th CD “Blue” in a 3/2018 special election. The PA 18th had a Cook PVI, Partisan Voting Index of R+11 and had gone for Trump by 20 points, similar to the NC 9th’s profile (fivethirtyeight.com, Rakich, 3/12/18, charlotteobserver.com, Wash. Post, 5/09/18). Tar Heel McCready (34) is also a Marine veteran. A USMC Captain, McCready led two platoons in Iraq in 2007-2008 (charlotteobserver.com, Batten, 4/07/18, McCready, “Home”). Like Lamb, McCready is young and new to politics. He received his bachelor’s degree from NC’s Duke University and an M.B.A. from Harvard. After graduation, he worked at McKinsey & Company. He became a small business owner and founded a NC company that rounds up investment for solar firms. McCready put hundreds of N. Carolinians to work building solar farms in rural areas. He was a leader in making NC second in the U.S. for solar power. He dealt in clean energy and used smart infrastructure. The NY Times called his company one with a “social conscience (NY Times, Bruni, 5/12/18, danmccready.com).”
Yes, McCready was dismayed by the 2016 election and called it a “really dark chapter of American history.” However, his focus is on the “bread and butter issues of his district’s residents,” not running against Donald. His Marine experience is key. He says what he loves about his country is what he saw in his platoon. The platoon was made up of people from all over the U.S. According to McCready, ”It did not matter who or where we came from, the color of our skin, or whether we were Republicans or Democrats. We all wore the same uniform.” Translation: our country’s all in this together. McCready, a father of four children between the ages of 10 months and 7 years, was perfectly happy to stay with his family and small business. However, he felt called to fight back for NC families that D.C. politicians “are leaving behind (NY Times, Bruni, danmccready.com).” Before deciding to run, McCready had a crucial conversation with his Presbyterian pastor. He is a fan of NASCAR icon Tom Petty (Bruni, NY Times). McCready, like Conor Lamb, puts “country before party,” and would, similarly, not support Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a lightning rod in his “Red “-leaning district which has not elected a Democrat to Congress for the last 55 years (See Bruni, 5/12/18).
McCready downplays the issue of same-sex marriage, saying it’s “been decided.” He wants to focus on background checks rather than banning assault weapons (Bruni). Remember, he lives in a state where gun use is widespread. However, he is for standing up to big drug companies, strengthening Medicare, not gutting it, and fixing Obamacare. He will fight against any efforts to turn Social Security over to the stock market, a GOP obsession. A product of the public schools, McCready is for early childhood education, teacher pay increases, and community college and job training programs. He is for cutting taxes on the middle class. McCready will fight against the current EPA that is polluting NC’s air and drinking water. As an Eagle Scout, McCready learned to love the state’s natural beauty. He is for helping the Lumbee Indian tribe, a group that faced more than a century of racial injustice in NC (mccready.com). He will protect veterans. He wants to abolish gerrymandering. He is for repealing the awful Citizens United Supreme Court opinion that allows billionaires to spend unlimited money on politicians (Chapman, shareblue.com). McCready is the only kind of politician who can flip this district “Blue.” He has the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) as well as the New Politics and Serve America, groups that support candidates who were veterans and have a record of national service (Bruni, NY Times, 5/12/18). Cong. Seth Moulton (D-MA), the fellow who heads the Serve America PAC stated, “We don’t need to welcome a wider range of views if we want to keep losing. But if we actually want to be a majority party, then we better embrace more Americans (Bruni, NY Times, 5/12/18).”
When McCready won his non-competitive primary, 45, 660 votes were cast by Democrats. In the Pittenger-Harris GOP primary dog fight, only 35,494 votes were cast. Democrats were buoyed by the turnout in this Trump-voting district, and think it shows “Blue” enthusiasm for the 11/2018 general election. McCready has $1.2 million for the general election to Harris’ just over $70,000 (Wash. Post, Hohmann, Deppisch, & Greve 5/09/18). After Pittenger’s loss and McCready’s strong primary performance, CNN and several other political prognosticators moved the NC 9th contest from “Lean Republican” to “Toss Up (cnn.com, Burlij, 5/09/18, Bruni, NY Times, 5/12/18).” Veteran NC GOP strategist Paul Shumaker, who worked for Pittenger, stated that he would “not be surprised if come September or October, you don’t see it (this race) rated ‘leans Democratic (Bruni).’”
Yes, all these initial trends are very promising. However, 11/2018, remains political eons away. Most political pundits and certainly GOPers are well aware that control of the U.S. House will rest upon who wins seats such as the Tar Heel 9th (See Bruni, Batten, charlotteobserver.com, 4/07/18). Count on the national GOP and their “Red”-leaning groups, Koch Industries and religious right circles, to pour in millions for extremist Harris. Count on them in this normally-GOP Trump district to bring their base out to vote. Expect GOP negativity, nastiness, and lies about McCready to go “off the charts.” Democrats must keep the enthusiasm up for McCready and give him more money to compete with the GOP. On 11/06/2018, the only day that counts, Democrats and moderates in the NC 9th must come out in droves and then some. McCready will truly represent the Tar Heel 9th, not extremist Harris.