CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The candidates hoping to claim North Carolina’s 9th District congressional race, a do-over after evidence of widespread election fraud last fall, clashed in a Wednesday night debate over the experience and the integrity they would take to Washington.
Republican Dan Bishop, a state legislator and former Mecklenburg County commissioner who is backed by President Donald Trump, said his record in office has benefited North Carolina through lower taxes and tough stands on immigration.
Democrat Dan McCready, who has never held office, referred to his service in the Marines and the jobs he’s created as a solar energy investor. McCready has put health care at the center of his campaign and claimed Bishop is backed by large pharmaceutical companies.
Both repeatedly accused the other of lies and distortions in the hour-long, televised debate sponsored by WBTV and The Charlotte Observer. They took questions on immigration, gun control, trade tariffs, deficits and foreign influence on elections.
“I have a feeling you’re as tired of the career politicians as I am,” McCready said in his closing. “We need people who have done things, led Marines and built businesses. I don’t think anyone should go to Washington as a Democrat first or Republican first. They should go as an American first.”
Bishop said voters should consider the value of good jobs, secure freedoms and common sense. “I ask voters to look at my record,” he said. “Don’t vote on platitudes, and certainly not on smears and falsehoods.”
The two have squared off in a four-month campaign to fill a congressional seat that’s been vacant since January. Voters in the district that runs from Charlotte to Bladen County will vote Sept. 10. Two third-party candidates, Libertarian Jeff Scott and the Green Party’s Allen Smith, didn’t meet fundraising criteria to qualify for Wednesday’s debate.
Both candidates responded to attack ads they say were false.
Responding to an ad claiming he had backed renewable energy rules that cost N.C. consumers $149 million a year in higher electricity costs, McCready said his solar energy investments had created 700 jobs and helped North Carolina become the second-largest solar state.
Bishop, referring to an ad that criticized him for voting against a bill that would let pharmacists discuss lower-priced drug alternatives with patients, said McCready ignored that Bishop had voted for a companion bill. He noted his support for a bill that became law Sunday that lets trade groups and small businesses provide cheaper health insurance for their employees.
On immigration, Bishop said the decision by some N.C. sheriffs, including Mecklenburg’s, to no longer cooperate with federal immigration authorities in detaining undocumented suspects left the public at risk from freed criminals. He defended Trump’s call for a wall on the Mexican border.
“You won’t secure borders,” he told McCready. “You won’t even secure the Mecklenburg County sheriff’s office.”
McCready insisted a bipartisan approach could find a solution to the immigration crisis. “It’s like we say in the business world when you go to do a deal, you have to get a 70% solution, where you get seven of the 10 things you wanted.”
On gun control, both men oppose bans on assault weapons and might agree on “red flag” laws in which weapons can be taken from people who are thought to be at risk of violence. But while McCready advocates comprehensive background checks prior to gun sales at gun shows, Bishop said they wouldn’t have stopped any of the mass shootings that have erupted in recent years.
“That is not the source of the problem,” Bishop said. Gun violence “is not a question that simplistic answers will solve.”
McCready, asked about Trump’s handling of tariffs on China and their effect on N.C. farmers, pivoted to attack Republican legislators on teacher pay in the state, which he said trails the national average by nearly $10,000 a year.
“China’s not the only source of rural struggle,” he said.
On projections that the federal deficit will reach $1 trillion next year, Bishop said he and his Republican colleagues in the legislature had cut North Carolina’s taxes while raising the amount residents may earn without paying taxes.
McCready noted that the N.C. tax cuts also raised taxes in other ways, such as on services. “If you think we need more policies that benefit the 1 percent, he’s your man,” he said of Bishop.
State officials called for the Sept. 10 special election in February after finding the 2018 contest between McCready and Republican Mark Harris marred by allegations of election fraud involving the Harris campaign. Harris, who had led by 905 votes in November, cited health reasons for choosing not to run in the September election.
Following his May 14 primary win, Bishop has hammered McCready for being vague on issues and tied him to national Democrats he called “socialists (and) radicals.” Bishop also yoked his star to Trump, who will campaign for him in Fayetteville the night before the special election, potentially boosting his chances in what’s expected to be a low-turnout election.
McCready has labeled Bishop “an inside career politician” and reminded voters that Bishop sponsored House Bill 2, the 2016 law that overturned Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance and said people had to use the restroom that conform to their gender at birth in public buildings. The law also led to boycotts and was blamed for lost jobs, sporting events and tourism revenue.