A Look at the NC-09 Congressional Race
Few elections in America will be watched on November 6th as closely as the NC 9th Congressional District. Dan McCready, a Democrat, will attempt to poach this historically Republican seat after the incumbent, Robert Pittenger, was defeated by Mark Harris in the Republican primary. Many analysts have looked at the NC 9th District as a prime target for Democrats to flip, but the Republicans are scrambling to shore up their defenses. As the DNC and RNC prepare to duke it out in November, here’s a brief primer on what to expect from this highly contentious race.
The district itself contains both the suburbs of South Charlotte and many rural communities on the NC-SC border, even reaching parts of Fayetteville. Because of the range in communities that are housed in the district, there is a growing divide between the interests of voters in South Charlotte and the voters of other rural areas in the district. For example, in the Republican primary, Robert Pittenger won the suburbs of Mecklenburg County 51-44, while Mark Harris won the rural areas of neighboring Union County 54-42. This is especially important, because suburban white voters, especially women, have been moving away from Trump extremely quickly. If Harris cannot win back the support of affluent South Charlotte suburbia, he may be in big trouble on November 6th.
The NC 9th District, instead of remaining staunchly Republican, has a history of swinging in Democratic wave years. According to the Cook Political Report, which rates every district on a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) that measures how a district votes compared with the nation as a whole, the NC 9th District is 8 points more Republican (R +8). Historically, the district has elected Republicans fairly consistently. The district has been held by Republicans for the past 58 years. It voted for Burr and Tillis every time they were on the ballot, and it voted for Trump by a margin of 12 points. There is, however, cause for concern among Republicans. In 2008, the district voted for Obama 49.7-49.4 and Kay Hagan 52-44. It also voted for Roy Cooper in 2016 49-48.8. One thing we can learn from the district’s voting history is that the district is somewhat elastic in its voting record, meaning that a popular Democrat is fully capable of winning. Time will tell if Dan McCready is palatable enough to the suburban voters in South Charlotte to flip the district.
To understand this congressional contest more completely, we have to understand the candidates themselves. Let’s start with the incumbent party, the Republicans.
Mark Harris is a 52 year-old Winston Salem native with a fiery disposition. As the senior pastor for the First Baptist Church (though he resigned to run for the US House) and the president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Harris has earned notoriety for being extremely conservative on almost all social issues. These issues form the base of his campaign. From the pulpit, he spearheaded efforts to ban gay marriage in North Carolina in 2012 and was a vocal supporter of HB2. He also preached in 2013 that the biblical idea of a dominant, powerful husband and domestic, subservient wife is still the model for marriage in modern times.
Harris’s firebrand style of social conservatism is supplemented by more establishment Republican views on immigration, taxation, healthcare, education, and foreign policy. These combine to give Harris a very Trump-esque campaign strategy that seeks to challenge Washington insiders and bring America back to the socially conservative days of old. The strategy worked well in the 2018 Republican primary when Harris successfully painted Pittenger as the servant of special interests and politicians. However, Harris will not enjoy the luxury of having a career politician to compete with in the general election.
Dan McCready, on the other hand, paints himself as a moderate Democrat. The 34 year-old Iraq War veteran seeks to build a bipartisan coalition that will propel him to the Capitol. As a graduate of Harvard Business School, he opened an solar energy firm with a fellow Marine, and he also started a firm that sells handmade American goods. It’s clear from his background that the McCready campaign is not trying to be divisive. Dan is trying to poach the disaffected suburban South Charlotte voters by emphasizing job creation and an end to Washington gridlock. On the issues, he toes the Democratic party line on the vast majority of them from healthcare to abortion. However, he diverts from traditional Democratic doctrine by emphasizing tax cuts for the middle class, cutting regulations for small businesses, and fighting for trade deals unlike those that were brokered in the past.
Overall, the candidates in the NC 9th could not be more different. On one side of the aisle, we have a fiery pastor who seeks to rile up the same fervor that Donald Trump did in 2016, and on the other, we have a practical small business owner who is attempting to bridge the chasm between Republicans and Democrats in a time fraught with polarizing views.
In any other election year, the NC 9th wouldn’t be considered too close. At the beginning of 2018, the Cook Political Report rated the district as “Likely Republican,” indicating that the district is not considered a viable target for Democrats to flip.
But, this isn’t any other election year.
The experts have taken notice of the district’s competitiveness. The race spent most of the year in the “Lean Republican” column of The Cook Political Report, which is a sign that Democrats might have a shot at winning, but the Republicans will likely keep the seat. However, on August 15th, the race was changed to a “Toss Up,” meaning that both candidates have a roughly equal shot at winning. Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics has listed the race as a toss-up for most of 2018. On the other hand, Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzalez is slightly less bull-ish for Democrats, listing the race as “Tilt Republican.” FiveThirtyEight’s House Forecast is even closer, giving Mark Harris and Dan McCready exactly 50% chance of victory.
In short, both sides will be on the edge of their seat on election night.
In light of their newfound hope for winning the district, Democrats have heavily funded the McCready campaign. According to the FEC, Dan McCready has $1.8M cash on hand. Mark Harris has just $295,000. McCready recently used the money to produce his first campaign ad, which urged Republicans to put “country over party” and vote Democratic in November. The Harris campaign, cash-strapped after running attack ads during the contentious May primary, has yet to release an ad.
As it nears election day, the election will likely remain similarly contentious. Expect campaign media to flood televisions and mailboxes as both sides ferociously attempt to corral their supporters and attack the other side. Still, don’t let it fatigue you. With such an important election year at hand, it’s your responsibility to vote - especially if you live North Carolina's 9th. It’s possible your ballot may decide the race, and even the entire House.