Outside groups spending big in crowded North Carolina special elections

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Voters in Charlotte, North Carolina cast their votes on November 6, 2018 (LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)

With early voting already underway for the special election primaries for North Carolina’s 3rd and 9th Congressional Districts, outside groups are already spending big to support their picks.

The 9th Congressional District is having a do-over election after the tight 2018 midterm vote was tainted by widespread allegations of election fraud conducted by Republican Mark Harris’ campaign. Democratic candidate Dan McCready, who ran in 2018 will face off against the winner of the crowded Republican primary, composed of a wide field of 10 candidates.

During the 2018 race, the competitive 9th District, which contains pieces of southeastern Charlotte and expands eastward along the South Carolina border, was flooded with outside money — outside groups spent almost $4.6 million supporting McCready and almost $3 million in favor of Republican Mark Harris.

With no Democratic primary challengers to compete with McCready leads the fundraising game, raking in around $1.5 million, more than several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

On the Republican side, Daniel Bishop raised the most out of the crowded field with $387,217. Bishop, a state senator and business owner, gained some national attention from his campaign ads which attempted to link McCready to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others by depicting the high-profile politicians and McCready himself as Bozo the Clown punching toys.

Bishop is endorsed by powerful conservative group Club for Growth, which has involved itself in the primary race. The group’s super PAC spent around $17,623 opposing Stony Rushing, a Dukes of Hazzard Boss Hogg impersonator and county commissioner endorsed by Mark Harris. Rushing trails Bishop significantly in fundraising, collecting just $34,294 so far.    

Another of Bishop’s Republican opponents is also getting substantial outside help. Leigh Brown, a North Carolina Realtor, has been aided by big spending from the National Association of Realtors PAC (NAR). Brown was a fundraising liaison for NAR for a number of years.

Over the last week, the PAC filed several independent expenditure reports with the FEC totaling around $1.3 million in support of Brown. Much of the outside money went towards TV and radio ad buys. Brown herself only raised $38,880, placing her third among the Republicans.

Brown filed a lawsuit against the FEC after the commission denied her request to continue airing ads for her real estate business.

In North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, another special election is brewing after the death of Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) in a safe Republican district. This race rivals the chaos of the 2020 presidential primary, touting 26 different candidates — 17 Republican and 6 Democratic, and several third-party candidates.

One candidate has garnered the attention and support of several outside groups which hope to set her apart in this jungle of a primary. Celeste Cairns, a certified public accountant, earned the backing of Club for Growth and several other outside spenders. In all, the Club for Growth has so far dropped around $58,419 on digital and radio ads supporting Cairns.

Cairns also recently received the help of a super PAC called Awake Carolina which was only registered with the FEC on April 9. On April 14, it spent $104,350 on media supporting her congressional bid.

The outside spending on her behalf is likely helpful, as Cairns has struggled fundraising. Her campaign only brought in around $75,100 placing her behind a number of other candidates.

Cairns isn’t the only woman in the 3rd Congressional District race getting an outside boost — Joan Perry, a pediatrician, has the backing of several GOP women’s groups. One of them is Winning for Women, a relatively new 501(c)(4) meant to recruit and support Republican women candidates. The group is headed by former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sarah May Stern, chairwoman of the conservative Hudson Institute think tank. Year-to-date, Winning for Women has spent around $165,441 in support of Perry. On April 18, it spent $122,888 on media buys.

Women Speak Out PAC, the super PAC arm of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, is also supporting Perry. On April 4, the organization announced it would be spending $75,000 on mailings, phone and digital ads in support of Perry. Through this week, more than $60,000 of that has already been spent.

Though Cairns and Perry are getting the help of outside forces, Greg Murphy, a state representative, leads the overall fundraising with $317,994. Perry ranks second among Republicans with $152,245.

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