The Republican Party is hitting the panic button and pouring money into a special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
Republicans have held the seat since 1963, but four weeks out, this year’s race is a dead heat, according to GOP insiders who fear President Trump’s party will suffer a major embarrassment if they lose the first test of the 2020 cycle.
Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop faces Democrat Dan McCready in the 9th District, which stretches across south-central North Carolina from Charlotte to Fayetteville.
The special election is a do-over of last year’s midterm contest in which Republican Mark Harris beat Mr. McCready by 905 votes but the results were scratched because of absentee ballot fraud linked to the Harris campaign.
Following the high drama of the election scandal, both sides say voters have tuned out the summer campaigns and extremely low turnout expected for the Sept. 10 special election make the outcome a crapshoot.
Democrats are licking their chops about winning a district Mr. Trump carried by 11 points in 2016.
“If Dan McCready wins that election, Republicans will be running scared across the country,” said Thomas Mills, a Democratic strategist and commentator in North Carolina.
North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley described Mr. Bishop as playing catch-up in the race but voiced optimism he would win.
“Despite the fact that Dan McCready has been campaigning for almost three years, the polls are tied and Dan Bishop has all the momentum in this race,” he said. “With dozens of events and a solid ground game in place over the next four weeks, we see the district staying Republican.”
Mr. Bishop gained national prominence as the author of the state’s “bathroom bill” that required people to use the public restrooms corresponding with their biological sex. The 2016 law touched off protests and boycotts of North Carolina before it was repealed a year later as part of a bipartisan deal.
Mr. Bishop beat nine other Republicans in the May 14 primary. Mr. Harris did not run.
The prospect of extremely low turnout has shaped the race. A veteran state GOP operative said the turnout likely will look like a municipal election.
“Low turnout elections are always unique and a lot of it is fought out on the ground. So it is a real slugfest,” the GOP operative said.
Eyeing turnout, Mr. Bishop is playing strictly to the GOP base with a pro-Trump message. He is promising to fight “crazy liberal clowns” in Washington.
Mr. McCready, a Marine veteran, is running a replay of the midterm race with a focus on health care reform, the same message that helped get enough moderate Democrats elected last year to take control of the House.
He is also avoiding attacks on Mr. Trump that could energize his opponent’s supporters.
“This campaign is for the people who bring us together and put country before political party and fight for people again instead of this broken partisan politics,” Mr. McCready said at a candidate forum Monday hosted by the NAACP branch in Fayetteville, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Mr. Bishop did not attend the forum. Mr. McCready was joined on stage at the forum by Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith, who will be on the ballot next month.
In recent weeks, two GOP groups poured $4 million into TV ads to boost Mr. Bishop. The National Republican Congressional Committee bought $2.6 million our air time. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to House Republican leadership, ponied up $1.2 million for TV ads, with more spending to come.
The outside spending by Republican groups has helped make up for Mr. McCready out-fundraising Mr. Bishop $3.2 million to $1.2 million.
Democratic groups such as Stand Up Republic, an anti-Trump super PAC, also have been putting money into the race.
The biggest spender behind Mr. McCready has been the Environmental Defense Action Fund and its super PAC, EDF Action Votes, spending a combined $586,000, according to a report by Open Secrets.
Democratic committees also are funneling money into a get-out-the-vote effort.
• S.A. Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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