Politics

Pittenger Draws Democratic Challenger in North Carolina

Marine veteran and businessman is first-time candidate in 9th District

North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger is a DCCC target in 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The road through North Carolina doesn’t look easy for House Democrats, but the party is targeting four seats (all of which President Donald Trump won by at least 9 points) in their effort to expand the 2018 battlefield.

Democrats have talked up their efforts to land veterans and businesspeople in red districts this year. Now they’re getting a candidate that checks both of those boxes in North Carolina’s 9th District. 

Solar energy financier and Marine veteran Dan McCready is announcing his candidacy against three-term Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger Wednesday morning. 

McCready didn’t think about running for Congress until recently. (“The American dream I fought for overseas is under attack,” he said by way of explanation.)

McCready served in Iraq. He and another Marine later founded Double Time Capital, which invests in solar farms in North Carolina. He also founded an online retail operation that sells goods made by American craftsmen. 

A Duke graduate, McCready was classmates at Harvard Business School with Rep. Seth Moulton, who’s been particularly involved this year in recruiting veterans. McCready wouldn’t say whether the Massachusetts Democrat personally recruited him, but he did acknowledge that he wouldn’t be running if it weren’t for Moulton’s example. 

McCready speaks in the vague platitudes common among first-time candidates, peppering his sentences with references to Washington’s “broken system.” Pressed on what specifically he’d attack Pittenger on, McCready brought up the incumbent’s vote to fast-track trade promotion authority. Democrats familiar with the race expect trade to be a big talking point for the challenger.

Asked whether Pittenger’s vote for the GOP health care bill would become an issue in the race, McCready pointed to comments the Republican made earlier this year when he said people could move out of states if they didn’t like the health care available to them. Pittenger had been responding to a question about whether people with pre-existing conditions could be charged more.

Trump carried this district by 12 points last fall, while Pittenger won it by 16. McCready suggested his message was likely to be more about about jobs and the economy than anything to do with the president. 

“We’re really not focused on Trump,” McCready said. “I am a Marine and an American before I’m a Democrat,” he said several times. 

Court-mandated redistricting last spring shifted Pittenger’s district eastward, which meant he was running in territory that was new to him in 2016. And the new district required spending in two media markets — Charlotte and Raleigh. 

After a recount, Pittenger ended up winning his June GOP primary by just 133 votes. Democrats are hopeful that the threat of a competitive primary could drive Pittenger to the right this year, making him more vulnerable in a general election. 

A federal investigation into Pittenger’s alleged improper transfer of money from his real estate company to his 2012 campaign account recently closed, with no charges filed against him. But Pittenger isn’t without liabilities. In a TV interview last fall, he said protesters in Charlotte “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” He was forced to apologize for his remarks.

Pittenger ended this year’s first quarter with just $58,000 in the bank, after raising $133,000. He was the 51st wealthiest member of Congress, according to Roll Call’s 2015 index. He since put his home in south Charlotte on the market for nearly $7 million. 

McCready won’t be the only Democrat in this race. Christian Cano, who earned 42 percent of the vote last fall, is running again.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 9th District race Solid Republican

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