McCready crafts a moderate image for conservative voters

The NC-9 race is tight as Republican Pastor Mark Harris faces Democrat Dan McCready

FILE PHOTO: Charlotte, N.C. | James Willamor CC

RALEIGH — The race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District appears tight as polling shows the Democrat competitive in this traditionally conservative-leaning district. The Cook Political Report has the district as an R7, meaning Republicans have an average seven-point advantage in recent elections. In a recent Civitas poll though, seven is also the number by which Democrat Dan McCready leads Republican Mark Harris.

The current congressman for the 9th District is Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, but he lost in the primary to Harris, a pastor and previous candidate for both U.S. House and Senate seats.

“I believe our effort was successful because voters embraced our message of lower taxes, smaller government, less spending, fiscal responsibility, a strong military, and a Congress that is responsive to the people and their needs,” Harris said to North State Journal on his primary win.

Republican leaders believe this expensive and contentious primary explains why Harris trails in both cash and polling. After the smoke clears, they hope the party faithful will unite and rally behind Harris.

Harris’ campaign suggests people are making too much of these polls anyway, telling North State Journal, “The only public polling in this race that shows Mark behind is a poll from Civitas and SurveyUSA, the same folks whose poll in the primary, a little more than a month before the election, had Mark down 30 points. We all know how the primary turned out, and I think that says everything you need to know about the credibility and accuracy of their polling.”

But others believe McCready’s appeal with conservative and moderate voters is real and a potential sign of a closer-than-predicted contest. On his website and social media, McCready unapologetically describes worshipping at churches in the district, being a husband and father, running a small business and being a Marine Corps veteran who led troops in Iraq during the 2007 “surge.” McCready’s focus on these traits could play well in this conservative district which runs from the Charlotte suburbs along the South Carolina border to Fayetteville.

“We’re building a bipartisan coalition,” McCready said to North State Journal. “I’m proud to have Republicans involved in every aspect of this campaign. We’ve seen unprecedented support from both sides of the aisle because folks agree with our message.”

This image actually caused conflict during the primary with his challenger, Christian Cano. During a debate, Cano said, “Dan McCready has never voted in a Democratic primary his entire life until he decided to run for office. I consider him a Republican.”

On his social media, McCready does make frequent overtures to Republican leaders. He recently tweeted in support of a bill from Pittenger that addressed cybersecurity, saying, “Congressman Pittenger and I disagree on a lot of things, but this is the kind of bipartisan legislation I will support if elected. We must put country before party and work with both sides of the aisle to move America forward.”

In another tweet, responding to a statement from Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), McCready said, “I talk a lot on this campaign about the importance of putting country over party. At a time when so many fall short, it’s important to commend courage when we see it. I applaud NC’s @SenatorBurr for standing up to Russian aggression, especially when our own President will not.”

Republicans counter that McCready, despite the bipartisan image, holds mainly to the Democratic Party platform. Statements in public and on his website do show support for abortion access, additional gun restrictions and other liberal positions.

“The liberal media is being the liberal media,” Harris’ campaign told NSJ. “They have an agenda and that agenda is clear in their coverage of this race. They’ve allowed Dan McCready a free pass at this point ignoring the support he is getting from Nancy Pelosi and her friends and liberal Washington special interest.

“They’ve let Dan skate by without having to answer the tough questions, and they’ve echoed his claims that he’s an outsider and a new kind of Democrat while it is clear he is your typical say anything, do anything to get elected liberal Democrat.”

The bitter Republican primary and moderate image of his opponent are not the only things potentially pushing against Harris. News outlets publicized segments of a Mother’s Day sermon he gave discussing the Biblical role of women. Many characterized his comments as suggesting women should not seek work, but his supporters say he was simply praising the importance of the role of motherhood. This may be contributing to a 16-point deficit among district women in the Civitas poll.

McCready’s campaign has used the controversy to his advantage, telling NSJ, “The fact is, my opponent is out of touch with the people of this district. Mark Harris is on the record saying women should think twice before pursuing careers.”

Harris has responded to the media and his opponent’s criticisms on social media.

“Just yesterday, both @ABC and @theobserver published stories twisting statements from a Mother’s Day sermon I preached where I talked about how there is no more important role a woman has than that of a wife and mother.

“It should come as no surprise that @McCreadyForNC jumped at the opportunity to twist my words and attack me. But far more important than the attack on me is the thinly veiled assault on the Bible. He’s mocking our biblical values by saying we are out of touch with this century.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 U.S. House seats this fall in order to gain the majority.