At a time when the Democratic party is positioning to define its identity and assert a strong united resistance against President Donald Trump following a historic congressional election win which put record numbers of women and minorities in Congress, in North Carolina, the fight to reshape American politics by taking Congress continues. In North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, the centrality of issues including LGBTQ inclusion, anti-semitism, Israel, affordable healthcare, and climate change are being debated both within and between party lines in a special election between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop.
North Carolina’s ninth congressional district has been held by Republicans since 1963, but that may change in this year’s special election. The 2018 ninth congressional district race saw what may be one of the greatest cases of election fraud in recent American history, sparking an investigation by the NC State board of elections and a bipartisan decision to call a new special election. In the 2018 election, Republican Mark Harris initially won the district with less than a thousand point lead, but evidence surfaced that his campaign illegally handled and forged absentee ballots.
In a rare, unanimous decision, the state’s five member Board of Elections voted to hold a special election on Sept. 10, 2019, giving Democrats another chance to flip the district.
It’s a chance that Democrats are betting big on. Democratic candidate Dan McCready, a Marine veteran, clean energy entrepreneurs, and small business advocate, revealed himself to be one of the strongest new recruits of the 2018 election, and Harris’ 2018 scandal has given the special election nationwide attention, including backlash from the right. At Donald Trump’s Greenville rally, Republican Senator Dan Bishop, Dan McCready’s main opponent, blasted McCready for accepting a donation from Minnesota house representative Ilhan Omar, although the donation was later returned, a move criticized nationwide as cowardly by many Democrats and left wingers.
I do not know what you expected to gain from joining Republicans in their rhetoric against @IlhanMN. This should be an apology, but it isn't. You are shifting the blame on Rep. Omar rather than owning up for being in the wrong, Dan.— Kris Rixon (@KrisRixonNC) April 18, 2019
I’m Jewish and I’m disgusted that you’d amplify the smears against her. So sorry I donated to your campaign.— Joshua Holland 🔥 (@JoshuaHol) April 18, 2019
Some folks are asking why I directed the return of Rep. Omar’s donation. I did this weeks ago because I vigorously disagree with any anti-semitic comments. Since this time, dangerous and hateful attacks have started against her... (thread)— Dan McCready (@McCreadyForNC) April 18, 2019
Despite this controversy, a poll conducted by the Demcratic group ALG Research for the McCready campaign shows that the two main candidates are neck and neck with both of them polling at 46 percent as of July 15-July 18.
Criticism from some on the left is matched by ardent support from McCready’s supporters who are eager to strike a blow against policies largely viewed to be transphobic, anti-health, and hateful. The McCready race has a special significance for many in North Carolina’s trans community, who have been left feeling deeply marginalized by North Carolina infamously controversial HB2, known as the Bathroom Bill, and its replacement law HB142, which mandated that the transgender and gender non-conforming community must use the bathrooms matching the gender assigned to them at birth. Dan Bishop was the bill’s main sponsor, making the special election a chance for the trans community to fight back.
Research shows that trans schoolchildren face a heigthened risk of sexual assault and harassment when schools restrict bathroom usage to comply with gender given at birth.
“I saw that Trans people at my school were so focused and worried about what bathroom they were allowed to use, and so uncomfortable all the time, that they weren’t able to focus on school.” said McCready campaign fellow Max Lewin. “When I saw that the person who wrote this bill was running for Congress in my district, I knew I had to do something.”
Led by UNC Chapel Hill project coordinator Joaquín Carcaño, the ACLU filed federal lawsuits against the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly known as House Bill 2 or HB2 challenging both HB2 and HB142. This action lead to a federal court to issuing an order on July 23, which bars North Carolina from using the bathroom bill to block transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their identity in North Carolina Public restrooms. Judge Thomas Schroeder signed the settlement, known as a consent decree, between the plaintiffs, governor Roy Cooper and other defendants, affirming that nothing in the law could be interpreted to "prevent transgender people from lawfully using public facilities in accordance with their gender identity".
For those who see the consent decree as a victory, McCready’s campaign gives hope that anything resembling the bathroom bill will not pass on the federal level without a hard fight.
“We as the LGBTQ community need to use our voices, to not let someone like that(Bishop) get elected to Congress,” said Lewin at a McCready LGBTQ phone-banking event on July 25.
McCready’s campaign slogan is “Country Over Party” emphasizing service to country rather than partisanship. Dan McCready supports creating a national service program to allow more young people to serve through Americorps. He hopes that his background as an entrepreneur and Iraq, veteran appeal to who sometimes vote conservative out of caution.
According to a UNC Media factcheck “At a meet-and-greet in Waxhaw, North Carolina, on April 18, McCready said that he comes at certain issues as a businessman. In response to a question about how to balance government budgets, McCready said he views it as a business professional, citing his experience with managing financials at his own company.”
Bishop’s assertion that he is sponsored by Ilhan Omar, seems intended to stoke fears about a connection to a supposed radical far left.
“They are going to throw all the lies and all the tricks, and all the negative ads it’s already started,” McCready said to supporters at LGBTQ phonebank. “But we know that by phone-banking, going from person to person, door to door we can talk about our message, let them know about putting country over party and changing the same old broken partisan politics.”
One part of this message is restoring democracy itself. North Carolina’s gerrymandering, voter registration issues and discrepancies between popular support for measures and governmental actions, means that North Carolina as a governmental unit cannot be considered a functioning democracy according to political scientist Andrew Greg of the Election Integrity Report, who designed some of the world’s first methods for evaluating elections.
“Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela,” writes Greg in a News and Observer Op-ed. “When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.
That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.
The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.” McCready’s campaign views their success in gaining a special election as a sign that their race received a greenlight to restore a system that has been broken for too long.
“When we saw that they were stealing people’s ballots, when we saw that they were filling in vote choices for people and targeting elderly voters, and African American voters, and Native American voters, when we saw what we now know to be one of the greatest cases of election fraud in North Carolina, we fought back,” McCready said. "This election on Sept. 10 is the people’s chance to get justice.”