Republican Mark Harris declared victory over Democrat Dan McCready early Wednesday morning in the 9th Congressional District.
With 99 percent of precincts in, Harris led by 2,000 votes in unofficial returns. Though McCready did not concede, North Carolina’s most expensive race appeared to end with Republicans holding onto a seat they’ve controlled for decades.
Meanwhile, in Mecklenburg County’s 12th District, Democratic Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte cruised to an easy victory over Republican Paul Wright, who lives lives 235 miles from Charlotte near Goldsboro.
Harris built his lead on the strength of strong support in Union and Bladen counties. McCready led in Mecklenburg and the district’s five other counties. Libertarian Jeff Scott trailed with less than 2 percent of the vote.
“This is a journey that has really been two years in the making,” Harris told jubilant supporters in Monroe. “But I’m glad to report, tonight it’s just getting started. . . As you can see tonight, Mark Harris has been elected congressman from the 9th District.”
With control of the U.S. House at stake, the race was one of North Carolina’s most competitive and one Democrats had targeted. It was also the most expensive, with nearly $16 million spent. Half of that came from outside groups.
Whatever the outcome, voters were guaranteed of having a new voice in Washington. Harris, the former pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, beat three-term Rep. Robert Pittenger in the GOP primary.
In SouthPark, McCready supporters, including former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, crowded a ballroom at the Marriott. On the podium was a blue poster that carried the candidate’s slogan in all caps: COUNTRY OVER PARTY.
Trump thrust himself into the race with two appearances in Charlotte on behalf of Harris and Republican Rep. Ted Budd of the 13th District, including a late October rally at Bojangles’ Coliseum. There he called McCready “another extreme liberal trying to fool voters into believing he’s a moderate.”
As around the country, Trump was a factor for many 9th District voters.
“The rhetoric of Donald Trump and members of the GOP is divisive and does not represent me or my family or anything I believe in,” said Mathews Democrat Karen Garfein, 53, who voted for McCready.
But unaffiliated voter Patrick McNamara, 30, said he likes what Trump has done. He voted for Harris.
“Things are going reasonably well,” said McNamara, a student who tends bar. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
In a district that Trump carried by nearly 12 points in 2016, McCready, a businessman and former Marine, cast himself as a centrist who would put “country over party.” His first TV ad showed him in uniform in Iraq, even getting baptized in water from the Euphrates River.
Harris, meanwhile, embraced the president and his agenda. He campaigned Monday with Donald Trump Jr. in Robeson County.
“You may indeed go down as the most truthful president in history,” Harris told Trump at the Charlotte rally. “He told us he was going to roll back regulations and stimulate this economy, and guess what?”
But Kelli Sprague of Matthews said Trump turned her from a Republican to a Democrat. She voted for McCready.
“I feel like (Trump) is taking us back 200 years in diplomacy, in women’s rights and human decency,” said Sprague, 48.
McCready and his Democratic allies used Harris’s old sermons to portray him as out of touch.
“Mark Harris said what?” a woman asked in one McCready ad. ”Harris questions whether careers were the healthiest pursuits for women. And preached on wives submitting to their husbands. … Mark Harris just wants to take women backwards.”
As he worked a Matthews polling site Tuesday, Harris said for his supporters, the ads backfired.
“The attack ads that took my sermons created a bit of a backlash,” Harris said Tuesday afternoon. “A line was crossed that was highly offensive.”
Harris also called the contentious hearings for Brett Kavanaugh a “turning point.” Many Republicans were energized by what they saw as Democratic over-reach.
And like Republicans across the country, his own ads sought to tie McCready to Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi. McCready said he would not vote for the former speaker from California, but his denials never put the issue to rest. But to Ralph Messara, an unaffiliated voter from Matthews, Pelosi was never an issue.
“Actually, she’s pretty effective,” he said. “I don’t understand why people hate her so much. I think it has something to do with her being a woman.”
Harris has said if elected, he would join the conservative Freedom Caucus, led by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina.
The candidates talked about other issues including health care, the economy and taxes. But for many voters the race was ultimately about the president.
Almost from the beginning, McCready had a big financial advantage.
He raised nearly $5.8 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. That includes a $500,000 loan from the candidate. Harris raised $2 million.
Outside groups poured in millions more. Democratic groups spent $4.6 million against Harris, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while Republicans and their allies spent $2.8 million against McCready.
More than half the districts voters live in the two largest counties, Mecklenburg and Union. The next largest is Robeson County, which has about one in five 9th District voters.
Both sides had cranked up their turnout operations. The National Republican Congressional Committee had been running its first nationwide get-out-the-vote radio ad. Mecklenburg Republicans promised Tuesday’s volunteers a chance to meet U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
US House District 9
- Mark Harris 49.45%
- Dan McCready 48.75%
- Jeff Scott 1.80%
(99.45 percent of precincts reporting)
US House District 12
- Alma Adams 73.18%
- Paul Wright 26.82%
(94.87 percent of precincts reporting)