Make no mistake, North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is conservative.
Voters from south Charlotte and Union County along the state’s southern border into Robeson County went for Donald Trump by 16 percentage points. The Cook Political Report lists it as Republican +8.
But with national winds at their back and a particularly strong candidate, Democrats find themselves in a very good position to flip in blue.
Dan McCready, a Marine Corps veteran and clean energy entrepreneur, sailed through the Democratic primary and now faces Charlotte Baptist pastor Mark Harris for the seat.
Earlier this month, the campaign encountered its first true test.
A Democrat-affiliated opposition research firm surfaced audio of a sermon Harris preached to First Baptist Church in 2013 on womanhood. It was part of a larger series on family values, and in it, Harris says that the “core calling” of women is to be a “helper” and mother. The coverage both nationally and locally was brutal.
McCready was given a great political gift: The chance to have a statement printed verbatim that would paint him as the good guy and read widely.
“As a Christian, I believe that we are all created in God’s image. That means men and women are equally valuable and equally capable and should be treated as such in their homes, careers, and in society. Mr. Harris’ comments suggest otherwise. This is just another example of how out of step Mr. Harris is — not just with this district but with this century.”
Here are the two big things wrong with this response.
1) A Christian conversion is part of McCready’s story, and a compelling one, too. McCready was baptized in the Euphrates River while serving overseas. So it makes sense that McCready would cite his faith in his response.
But the argument he puts out there is fairly wooden and surface-level. It won’t sway anybody who comes in suspicious of McCready’s values.
What he should have done instead: The Bible is full of counterarguments to the theology Harris espouses in his sermon.
Try Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Or dip into Proverbs 31: “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.”
And then there are plenty of examples in the Bible where God uses women to accomplish his mission on earth. There’s Deborah, a prophet and Judge of Israel who led a major military victory. There’s Lydia, one of the first Christian leaders in all of Europe. And, of course, two women were the first to encounter the risen Christ.
Nobody’s expecting McCready to deliver a sermon of his own, but outlining a little bit more Bible knowledge would have been helpful here. Trump can get away with what’s perceived as inauthentic Christian language1; McCready cannot.
2) McCready erred in saying Harris is out of step with this century. This gifts Harris a powerful response of his own — allowing the Republicans to paint McCready as anti-Christian or someone who believes that religion is antiquated and backward and out-of-touch with modern day. Christian voters are already sensitive to this portrayal. Even if they disagree with Harris’s theology, they might be turned off my McCready’s messaging here.
What he should have done instead: Plenty of others will make the argument that Harris’s views are behind the times. McCready doesn’t need to repeat it. He should have stuck with the Christian message here and not given Harris a chance to attack back with his own words.
This has the potential to be a winning issue for McCready.
Running a traditional Democratic campaign on it risks squandering it. This was an opportunity for McCready to really open up and lay out his vision. If he didn’t trust the media to carry that message, he could have recorded a video or written a blog post of his own.
I believe McCready’s faith is authentic, but he could have thought his position through more fully before responding on such an important topic.
Here’s a better basis for message McCready should have set out, or even have McCready’s wife or mother send the message. Perhaps he has an anecdote or two to fill it out. But it’s at least a much better frame.
“Being a wife and mother are crucial roles that women play, and should not be minimized. But the Bible shows us that God has much more than that planned for His people. God continually calls women to lead and make a difference. This is still happening today. Across North Carolina this year, you’re seeing women running for office and make this world a better place. I’m supporting them and I hope they support me, because these are the Christian values I believe in.”
[Editor’s note: This article is a political analysis and not an endorsement of the McCready campaign.]
Cover photo by Dan McCready for Congress via Facebook.