In one of three North Carolina congressional districts Democrats hope to flip, Democrat Dan McCready began the year with three times as much campaign money as incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger.
New reports show McCready has raised $1.2 million in his bid to become the first Democrat to represent the 9th District in 65 years.
Pittenger, meanwhile, substantially outraised GOP challenger Mark Harris but has a narrower edge in available campaign money.
In a state where most congressional districts are solidly Republican or Democrat, there are three Republican-held districts in which analysts say Democrats have a shot. One is the 9th, which runs from Charlotte to Fayetteville. The others are the suburban 2nd District near Raleigh and the 13th, which runs from from Iredell to Guilford counties.
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Nationally Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to take control of the U.S. House.
McCready, a business owner and former Marine who served in Iraq, raised $350,000 in the last quarter of 2017. That includes $63,500 from political action committees representing mainly party groups. Another $242,000 came through Act Blue, a Democratic clearinghouse.
He knows the district has not elected a Democrat for decades.
“My message is country over party,” McCready said in an interview Thursday. “What I’m finding is North Carolinians are ready for that. People are not Republicans or Democrats first. They’re Americans first.”
With $930,000 cash on hand, McCready could have the luxury of not having a competitive primary. Democrat Christian Cano, the party’s 2016 nominee for the seat, reported just $46 on hand. Both are from Charlotte.
Pittenger, on the other hand, faces a challenge from at least two Republicans. In addition to Harris, Clarence Goins of the Fayetteville area, announced his candidacy last month but has yet to file a finance report.
In 2016, Pittenger edged Harris, a former Charlotte pastor, by 134 votes in a three-way primary. He took 58 percent in beating Cano that November.
Forty-five percent of the district’s voters are Democrats; a third are Republicans. But the most votes have come from Republican-leaning precincts in southeast Charlotte and the Union County suburbs.
Pittenger, in his third term, raised $822,000 last year. That included $454,000 from PACs representing mainly corporations and trade groups. The Pittenger Victory Fund, which benefits the candidate and the party, raised another $358,000.
Pittenger already has spent $68,000 on ads that ran on TV and digitally late last year.
“You’ve got a guy right now getting a relatively free pass on the Democratic side,” said Pittenger strategist Paul Shumaker. “And on the Republican side you’ve got two candidates focused on the primary.”
Despite significantly outraising Harris, Pittenger had $287,000 cash on hand compared with Harris’s $222,000.
“We feel like we’re going to have all the resources we need to run an ambitious campaign,” said Harris consultant Andy Yates. “We’ll have plenty of resources.”
Pittenger has embraced the president and his policies. He touted the recent tax cuts last month at a Charlotte manufacturer.
Harris has criticized Congress for not doing more, citing among other things its failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Pittenger, who formerly ran a real estate investment company, has always been the highest spender in his campaigns. Late in the 2012 primary, he dropped $324,000 into radio and TV ads on a single day.
But Democrats say this is a different year. It’s a mid-term election when the president’s party historically suffers losses. And Democrats say they have momentum from a string of recent successes.
“You can make the argument that control of the U.S. House of Representatives runs through districts like Robert Pittenger’s,” said Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson of Raleigh.