Campaigns

North Carolina candidates spar in first and only debate of redo election

Dan McCready and Dan Bishop largely stuck to familiar attacks

Democrat Dan McCready, above, faced Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop on Wednesday night in the lone debate of the redo election in North Carolina’s 9th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Less than two weeks ahead of the special election in North Carolina’s 9th District — a do-over race because of last year’s election fraud — the Democratic and Republican candidates met Wednesday for their first and only debate.

Democrat Dan McCready, a Marine veteran and solar energy entrepreneur, stuck to the health care message he’s used throughout this campaign and previously in the 2018 race, which he lost by just 905 votes to Mark Harris. The North Carolina State Board of Elections called for a new election after allegations of ballot fraud tied to Harris’ campaign.

Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop, who won a 10-way primary in May, adhered close to President Donald Trump and accused McCready of being inexperienced and dishonest in his attacks. “It seems like he might be living on a different planet,” Bishop said at one point, responding to the Democrat’s accusation that he was waging a war on public schools. 

As the only competitive federal race in 2019, this House race — which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Toss-up — comes as both parties look to take the temperature of 2020, especially in battleground states like North Carolina.

Democrats are hoping McCready can flip a district that Trump carried by 11 points in 2016, further solidifying their House majority. The most recently released polling of the race, from the McCready campaign, showed both candidates tied at 46 percent. Republicans are seeing a similarly close race. Outside GOP groups have spent upward of $5 million here, and Trump is scheduled to hold a rally to boost Bishop on the eve of the election. The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was in the district Wednesday fundraising  for Bishop. 

Both candidates on Wednesday night argued that they were the victims of unfair attacks from outside interests, which have poured millions of dollars into the 9th District race. Bishop reiterated GOP attacks on McCready for his solar energy business, accusing him of enriching himself at taxpayers’ expense.

[Why North Carolina candidates aren’t talking about the ‘bathroom bill’]

Health care dominated much of the debate, with McCready repeating his attacks on Bishop for being the only senator to vote against legislation that would allow pharmacists to discuss lower-cost alternative drugs with their patients. Bishop has argued he voted for a similar bill in the North Carolina Senate but didn’t vote for the state House version because he had floor duties and didn’t have time to read the updated version of the two-page bill. 

The candidates continued to disagree on Medicaid expansion, with McCready in favor and Bishop opposed. Asked how he’d ensure Americans continue to receive affordable care if the 2010 health care law is invalidated, Bishop said he’d turn to “innumerable market-based innovations,” but said he didn’t have time go through them all.

McCready tried to distance himself from some of the rhetoric from the Democratic presidential candidates and the more liberal wing of his party when he said it was crazy for Democrats to say that securing the border was unnecessary. But he argued against relying exclusively on a physical barrier, like the border wall Trump and Bishop support. 

[North Carolina redo election is the last race of 2018 — and the first of 2020]

Both Bishop and McCready said they supported Trump’s willingness to stand up to China on trade. McCready said he disagreed with using tariffs as the primary response to Beijing. Bishop said he’s talked to farmers who support Trump’s policies — for now. “They support President Trump’s policy of getting tough with China, in particular, but they need that policy to be brought to fruition and successful conclusion relatively soon,” he said.

Both candidates have opposed a ban on assault weapons. “The best way to handle assault weapons is through a comprehensive background check,” McCready said, arguing that he wants to support measures that have a realistic chance of passing in the near term. Bishop left some room on the issue, saying, “I don’t rule out the possibility that some form of weapon needs to be prohibited.” He questioned, however, whether the background checks McCready advocates would have stopped recent mass shootings. 

When each candidate was given a chance to pose a question to his opponent, Bishop tried to turn the ballot collection scandal on McCready, alluding to allegations that Democrats had also previously paid people to collect ballots. McCready largely dodged that question, instead using it to express his outrage at the election fraud perpetrated by a consultant for the Harris campaign. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.