A former Marine, Dan McCready finds his latest mission in a bid for Congress

The Marines were once a calling for Democrat Dan McCready. Now they’re a touchstone, in business and politics.

After leading a platoon in Iraq’s Anbar province during the 2007 surge, he realized that at Harvard Business School. He left there with a degree and a promise called the “MBA Oath,” a pledge of corporate responsibility that has spread to schools across the country. He still carries it on a tattered card in his wallet.

“It is important to me to use business for good,” McCready says. “I missed that sense of mission from the Marine Corps.”

For McCready, 35, the race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is his latest mission. He often invokes the Marines as part of a campaign in which he promises to take a bi-partisan approach to Washington.

“We never cared about where you were from (or) the color of your skin,” he told one business group. “The last thing we cared about was whether you were Republican or Democrat.”

A first-time candidate, McCready is among more than three dozen post-9-11 veterans running for Congress. His race against Republican Mark Harris has garnered national attention as one that could help determine control of Congress.

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In a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat for decades, McCready has sought to put partisanship aside. In a TV ad, he promises to “put country over party to get things done.”

Critics say McCready’s bi-partisan rhetoric masks a liberal agenda underscored by $364,000 in help from a political action committee tied to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. For some, his earnest promises to work across the aisle are vague substitutes for more detailed policy positions.

“You do a great job of sort of straddling the fence on a lot of issues and being vague,” businessman Steve Huff, a Harris supporter, told him at a recent event.

But McCready’s promises also reflect the values of an Eagle Scout who since college has fought in a war, built two businesses and had four children. Friends describe him as purposeful, even when his decisions — like joining the Marines — surprise them.

“He reflects on what is important to do and, once he makes up his mind, he does it,” says Jonathan Williams, a longtime friend.

Watching ‘Private Ryan’

Like his friends at Myers Park High, McCready was an achiever.

“He was always kind of the center of energy and bringing people together,” says classmate Grace Murray, who now works at the Smithsonian. “He would never sit still.”

McCready took part in clubs and on weekends headed outdoors to hike or canoe. He and Williams played guitar covers of music by Guy Clark and Simon and Garfunkel.

He indulged a love of military history, visiting Gettysburg and devouring Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. Having a grandfather who’d served in World War II, he watched “Saving Private Ryan” multiple times, a story of an Army officer who gave his life to rescue a fellow soldier.

“He was always attracted to stories of people who were overcoming great odds to get something done,” says friend Deirdre Pfeiffer, who now teaches at Arizona State. “He was always a can-do guy. I think he found that Tom Hanks character in Private Ryan as a kind of role model.”

McCready went on to Duke University where he majored in economics. He also continued to play music and hike. It was on a backpacking trip that he met his future wife, Laura, the daughter of a textile company owner. While other students who graduated in 2005 went off to business careers, he joined the Marines.

He found himself at Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va. That’s where he met a classmate named Nick Borns.

“He said he wanted to be part of something greater than himself,” Borns says. “And he knew the Marines take the tougher challenge first.”

In Ramadi

In Iraq, McCready led a 65-man communications platoon. Based along the Euphrates River near Ramadi, its task was to ensure a battalion’s communications over an area bigger than Charlotte.

“When we got to the battalion there was some leadership challenges in our platoon,” says Scott Stephens, McCready’s master sergeant. Over time, he adds, there was “a total change in the way everything operated.”

Along the way, Stephens says, McCready “earned the respect of everyone in the platoon.”

Shaun O’Neal, a sergeant in McCready’s platoon before the deployment, says, “The biggest thing that separated him from other leaders was he didn’t micro-manage.”

“He wasn’t hounding you every second,” O’Neal says. “The thing about lieutenants is, there’s always . . . something to make fun of them about. Dan didn’t have that. He was a good leader.”

Discharged as a captain in 2009, McCready went to Harvard. He returned to Charlotte for a job with McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm. In 2012, he left McKinsey without a clear idea of what he would do. All he knew was that he wanted to run a company “that would make a difference.”

After a year-long hiatus, he started a business he called “This Land.” A trip to Kentucky had inspired him to find and market work from American craftsmen. He ran the business out of his Myers Park garage. “I realized I didn’t own anything that was made in America that was worthy of being passed down to my kids,” he says. “This was really a passion project for me.”

At the same time, McCready started another company with a former Marine he’d met at Harvard.

In 2013 he and Rye Barcott launched Double Time Capital to invest in solar energy projects. Last year Fortune Magazine reported that the two had raised $80 million from investors including former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. and former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. They financed more than 10 percent of North Carolina’s solar power.

Rogers says in a business like theirs, investors have to “believe in and trust the people you’re going to be investing in.”

“The thing that I admire about both of them is they identified an opportunity, they built the capability to go after it and they succeeded,” says Rogers. “They built a business that reflected their values.”

A financial disclosure report appear to indicate that the business has done well for its partners. It lists 2017 partnership income as between $1 million and $5 million. The same report puts McCready’s assets at between $13.6 million and $28 million.

‘A lot of convincing’

According to friends, McCready was never particularly political. But not long after after the 2016 election, McCready was eating lunch with Jackie Gomez, who was helping run This Land.

“You’re the kind of guy we need in office,” she told him. “Have you ever thought about running?”

No, she recalls him saying.

“You should consider it,” she said. “You’re the kind of person we need to make a change.”

McCready also talked about it with his friends, family and even his pastor. And he had long phone calls with another former Marine from Harvard.

“He needed a lot of convincing frankly,” says U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a congressman from Massachusetts. “He was particularly concerned about the impact on his family. But I reminded him that being a Marine isn’t easy for his family either. But it’s the right thing to do for our country.”

In 2016, McCready was a registered independent. He contributed to Republican candidates and says he even voted for some, including Pat McCrory in the 2012 gubernatorial campaign. A one-time Democrat, he re-registered with the party in January, 2017. In the Democratic primary, challenger Christian Cano called him “Republican lite” and a “political opportunist.”

McCready says he’d never planned to run for Congress but ultimately saw it as another mission.

“At the end of the day we both decided to run for similar reasons,” Moulton says. “We wanted to serve the country again and we see politics as pretty broken.”

Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill