Outside money pours into North Carolina ahead of special election

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Dan McCready, Democratic candidate for North Carolina’s 9th District, talks with voters at his campaign office (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One month before the special election in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, outside groups are spending millions as both parties look for a symbolic victory during an off year.

Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop will face off against Democrat Dan McCready, a businessman and Marine veteran who ran for the seat in 2018 only to see the results thrown out over allegations of election fraud by his opponent’s campaign.

McCready has outraised Bishop $3.2 million to $1.2 million. But outside spending in the race favors the Republican from South Charlotte. McCready has received some outside backing from liberal groups, but not as much as he did during his last go-round.

So far, PACs, super PACs and nonprofit groups supporting McCready or Bishop have spent a total of $3.2 million, with pledges to dole out millions more before the Sept. 10 election.

Leading the charge is the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has dropped $1.1 million on the race so far. All of that funding has gone toward TV ads attacking McCready, citing his connections to lobbyists and his support for tax breaks for renewable energy initiatives. McCready founded an investment fund for solar energy in 2013.

The NRCC has reserved a total of $2.6 million in air time leading up to the election, according to Politico.

Two conservative super PACs — the Congressional Leadership Fund and Club for Growth Action — have also thrown their support behind Bishop, spending a combined $1.3 million on the race. Both those groups have sponsored independent canvassing for the Republican nominee in addition to running ads.

McCready’s biggest outside support has come from the Environmental Defense Action Fund and its super PAC, EDF Action Votes, which have spent a combined $586,000 backing the Democrat. The Marine veteran also has the support of the “dark money” group VoteVets Action Fund, which has spent $227,000 so far.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spent more than $1 million supporting McCready during the 2018 cycle, has yet to wade into the election with independent expenditures this year. The Washington Post reported last week that the DCCC said in a memo to Democratic lawmakers that it is committed to supporting McCready.

The liberal 501(c)(4) Patriot Majority USA also spent nearly $1 million supporting McCready during the 2018 cycle but has yet to spend on his behalf this time around.

Outside spending in North Carolina’s 9th District totaled nearly $8 million during the last election cycle.

With the Democratic Party now holding a 38-seat majority, the partisan affiliation of the seat will have little legislative impact. But the outcome of the special election in North Carolina will still carry symbolic weight as a test of whether Democrats’ midterm success was a one-time occurrence or a fundamental shift that will carry into 2020.

The 9th District has been represented by a Republican since 1963, though its boundaries were modified in 2016 when the state’s maps were thrown out over racial gerrymandering. The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates the district as R+9, and President Donald Trump won there by 12 points in 2016.

During the 2018 primary, pastor Mark Harris knocked off incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger, who had served three terms. Harris appeared to beat out McCready by about 900 votes last November, but the North Carolina Board of Elections refused to certify the results after an independent contractor hired by the Harris campaign allegedly collected absentee ballots illegally with the intention of tampering with them. Eight people have been indicted in relation to the case, though Harris was not among them. The pastor said in February he would not run again, citing health issues.

A second special election will take place on the same day in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which has been without a representative since Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) died on Feb. 10. Trump carried the district by nearly 23 points in 2016, and Jones did not face an opponent during the 2018 general election.

This time around, former mayor of Greenville, N.C., Allen West is running as a Democrat. State Rep. Greg Murphy is the Republican nominee after edging out pediatrician Joan Perry in the primary runoff. 
Murphy’s eventual primary victory came despite more than $1 million in spending by conservative women’s groups supporting Perry. Only 13 Republican women currently serve in the House.

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