Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris clashed repeatedly in their final congressional debate before agreeing on one thing: The choice for North Carolina’s 9th District voters is stark.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere in the country with a greater difference on the ballot,” McCready said at the end of Wednesday’s feisty exchange sponsored by Spectrum News.
Harris assured viewers they heard “two very different visions of America.”
The two are running in the district that runs from southeast Charlotte to outside Fayetteville. It’s one of the most competitive races in the country and most expensive in North Carolina. Polls show the race is tight and likely to remain so through Election Day, with most national observers rating it a toss-up.
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On stage before a spirited audience at Charlotte’s Spirit Square, the candidates disagreed on issues from climate change to immigration to the federal Department of Education. But they also got personal. Each candidate accused his opponent of misrepresenting him and each took offense over TV ads.
“I’m sick and tired of my position being misrepresented,” Harris said. He added that the campaign had taken “a dark turn” with some ads.
McCready said he’s “sorry to have to deal with an opponent who is lying.” He sought to portray Harris as an ideologue who among other things, pledged that if elected he would join the conservative Freedom Caucus.
“Mark Harris is not someone who would put country over party,” McCready said. “He’s putting his own extreme ideology over everything else.”
Harris said McCready “won’t tell you the truth about his liberal agenda.” As he did in a debate last week, Harris said McCready would have little choice but to back House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California if she emerged as the choice of her party’s caucus. A vote for McCready, he said, is a vote for Pelosi.
“This race at its core is about one thing,” Harris said, “that is, who calls the shots in Washington.”
McCready reiterated his position that he won’t support Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
“I will not be voting for Nancy Pelosi,” McCready said. “I will not be voting for (GOP Speaker) Paul Ryan. Who I will be voting for is a new leader.”
Ryan is not running for re-election.
The audience was rowdy, more often toward Harris. People groaned or even booed especially when he mentioned “Pelosi” or “the wall.” Twice moderator Tim Boyum of Spectrum News had to ask the audience to tone it down.
“They were plain nasty,” Mecklenburg GOP Chair Chris Turner said Thursday. “That was a disappointing audience to say the least. They were there to belittle and tear down and disrupt the debate.”
They differed on other issues:
▪ Climate: Harris said while “there’s no question the earth is getting warmer,” he doesn’t “buy into” the idea that humans are responsible.
McCready said “climate change is real.”
▪ The border: McCready said he would secure the border with the kind of technological surveillance he saw employed while he served as a Marine in Iraq. Harris said he agreed with President Trump’s position.
“The only way you’re going to secure the border is ultimately build the wall,” he said.
▪ Women: In answer to a viewer who asked Harris about his past comments on women, the former pastor said he supports women in the workplace. Harris has claimed his past sermons were taken out of context. In 2013, for example, he delivered a sermon in which he questioned whether careers were “the healthiest pursuit” for women.
“This is another part of the overall strategy that has been exercised by the Democratic Party and my opponent,” he said.
McCready criticized the sermons’ depictions of women but added that he wasn’t criticizing Harris’ religion.
“This is not an attack on your faith, Mark,” he said. “I’m a Christian too.”
The race has attracted big money.
McCready continued to outraise and outspend Harris in the last quarter. Reports this week show he has raised $4.3 million, more than doubling Harris’s $1.6 million.
Meanwhile, outside groups, including super PACs tied to House leaders, have poured nearly $2.7 million into their 9th District race, according to the Federal Election Commission. That’s the most of all the state’s 13 congressional districts.