Note: This article is political analysis and not an endorsement of either candidate.
The race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is one of the most closely watched in the nation.
It’s a fairly red district that stretches from the Charlotte suburbs and along the state’s southern border out to Robeson and Bladen counties. Conservative Charlotte pastor Mark Harris has already ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger in the primary.
But the Democratic candidate, Marine veteran Dan McCready, has turned the race into a toss-up in a potential blue wave election. He’s campaigned as a centrist, “country over party” candidate who has said he would not support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker.
That made one particular moment in this week’s televised debate between Harris and McCready particularly noteworthy.
In about 60 seconds, Mark Harris hit on the one argument that could very well propel him to a narrow victory come November.
At one point, both candidates were asked about Pelosi and the millions of dollars flooding into the district from Democratic PACs. McCready reiterated that he would not support Pelosi and said that Congress needs new blood, particularly in leadership.
But then Harris responded with a succinct argument that effectively ties him to the national party.
“If Mr. McCready is elected, he just represents a number that would move the Democrats toward a majority,” Harris said, which he said would inevitably lead to Pelosi as speaker and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters as chairwoman of the financial services committee.
“Yes, we want bipartisanship. Yes, we want to work together. But there are certain political realities that all of us in the 9th District have got to face, and this is one of them.”
[Want to watch just this exchange? See McCready’s comments on Pelosi at the 27:00 mark of the video, and Harris’s statement at 28:00]
North Carolina’s 9th District could be weary of Trump and rancorous partisanship.
We’ve already seen that moderate voters and Jim Martin-style Republicans are increasingly fed up with the national GOP and McCready is an attractive alternative. Some Republicans are even secretly hoping Harris will lose so they can run a new type of candidate in 2020.
But Harris is counting on the electorate to stay with the same team. He’s betting the 9th District is open to a North Carolina-style Democrat, but not ready for the national party.
His is a somewhat cynical argument, but a compelling one for people who lean toward the GOP in normal times.
If anything, Harris could have gone harder after McCready on the topic during the debate. He could have taken the opportunity to attack McCready for sidestepping issues, as The Charlotte Observer editorial board did last week.
Local politics is inextricably linked to the national climate. That’s why this just might work.