Dan McCready, Trinity ‘05, is shaking hands with elected officials and taking selfies with supporters in between bites of a cheeseburger and potato chips. McCready, who is running for Congress to represent the 9th District of North Carolina, has never held elected office.
But he’s dancing through the motions of campaigning at the Robeson County fairgrounds as if he’s done it all before.
In fact, he has—McCready has been running for the office for more than two years. He lost last November’s general election by fewer than a thousand votes, but the N.C. State Board of Elections found evidence of election fraud by a political consultant working on behalf of his competitor and called for a redo. So he stayed on the campaign trail, holding town halls and events across the parts of eight counties that make up the district that stretches along the state’s southern border.
“This has been a long campaign. Laura and I actually measure it in terms of the numbers of kids,” McCready said to an assembled crowd. “When we started we had three kids—we have four now.”
But with the election Sept. 10, the finish line is getting close.
“We ran a marathon together,” McCready to the crowd gathered at the Robeson County fairgrounds Aug. 29. “They added about 10 miles, and we are in the last lap.”
At Duke, McCready majored in economics. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, which took place when he was a first-year, he said he felt called to serve his country in the armed forces.
Following college graduation, he joined the Marines and then returned to North Carolina to launch a solar energy business. He and his wife Laura McCready, Trinity ‘03, now have four children.
“Then I felt that calling again to serve when I realized really how divided our country has become, how dysfunctional Washington has become and what a need we have for new leaders,” McCready told The Chronicle after the Lumberton rally.
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Leading up to the November 2018 election, McCready was one of 13 Duke alumni running for Congress, and one of 11 who survived primary season to make the general election ballot. On election night, it looked like the Republican challenger Mark Harris had eked out a win against McCready by fewer than 1,000 votes.
But the State Board of Elections declined to certify the race after there were allegations of election fraud against a consultant tied to Harris’ campaign, and in January 2019 North Carolina’s 9th District was the only one without representation when the new Congress was sworn in.
In February, following a four-day evidentiary hearing, the State Board of Elections unanimously ordered a new election for the district after a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme,” according to a news release from the board.
Harris decided not to run in the new election, but McCready stayed in.
Mecklenburg State Sen. Dan Bishop, a Republican who has served in the state legislature since 2014, is now challenging McCready.
Bishop’s campaign website notes that he “led the fight to put the Voter ID Constitutional Amendment on the ballot last November and has been A rated by the NRA for protecting our constitutional amendment rights.” Bishop was a sponsor of 2016’s controversial HB-2, known as the state’s “bathroom bill,” which prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms that do not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Polling shows a tight race in the election, which is expected to be a signal flare for 2020. President Donald Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016—one of McCready’s common phrases is to put “country over party.”
A poll conducted by Inside Elections, a nonpartisan analysis group, from Aug. 26-28 sampled 551 “likely” special election votes by phone. It found that McCready had a 46% to 42% advantage against Bishop—a result within the poll’s 4.2% margin of error. The Charlotte Observer reported that both parties’ internal polling show a close race.
“This is a race that’s going to come down to hundreds of votes,” McCready said after the Lumberton rally. “That happened last time—it was one of the closest and the toughest battles in the whole country.”
Early voting has already begun in the race and will end Sept. 6. Alicia Jacobs and her family were outside an early voting site in Pembroke Thursday, handing out flyers for McCready and giving people in the community rides to the site to vote.
Campaign volunteer Peace Ajirotutu, a student at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, said she enjoyed the Lumberton rally.
“I felt the rally was amazing today,” Ajirotutu said. “Actually I had butterflies because I really wanted to see Dan speak.”
The race’s tempo may reach a crescendo approaching election day, as Trump visits Fayetteville—part of the district—Sept. 9 to campaign for Bishop.
Talking with The Chronicle after the Lumberton rally, McCready said that he was ready for the final sprint.
“We’re giving it everything we’ve got,” McCready said.