After nearly two years on the trail, Democrat McCready quietly planning another race

It’s already been a long and strange campaign for Democrat Dan McCready. And it may not be over.

He started running in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in the spring of 2017. Nearly 18 months and $6 million later, he appeared to come up 905 votes short of beating Republican Mark Harris. But allegations of ballot fraud have left the election in court and under investigation, and the candidates in limbo.

With a new election possible, McCready, 35, has been rebuilding his campaign.

“We want to make sure that if a new election is called, we’re in a position day one to start communicating with voters, to do everything we need to do to be able to carry on this fight,” he told The Charlotte Observer this week.

A new election could be the year’s only congressional contest, guaranteeing national attention and money. Two announced Democratic presidential candidates — Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand — already made fundraising appeals for McCready.

“Inevitably it will be seen as a referendum on the contest between (President Donald) Trump and congressional Democrats,” said political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.

Presidential candidates, he added, “will have to make a pilgrimage” to the district.

Though the State Board of Elections has twice refused to certify his election, Harris has sought to show that he’s the rightful winner and should have been seated with the new Congress on Jan. 5.

“We believe that . . . I should be certified,” Harris, 52, told reporters this month. “We don’t believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election.”

While Harris has been making his case in court and in the media, McCready has been quietly laying the groundwork for a new campaign.

Soon after the state board first refused to certify the election in late November, McCready called his spokesman Aaron Simpson with the news. Simpson, heading north in a U-Haul on Interstate 85, turned around and returned to Charlotte. He was soon joined by about a dozen staffers from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Over the next few weeks, they began resurrecting the campaign, cranking up digital and fundraising operations and visiting voters in Bladen County.

McCready, meanwhile, took his family to Disney World and generally shied away from the media. Now, with a flurry of interviews, that’s changing.

“We’ve been trying to unplug a little bit,” he said, “but also lay some groundwork and make sure that if this election is called we’re ready to fight for the voices of the people whose votes were taken here in North Carolina.”

‘Country over party’

McCready, a graduate of Duke University, led a platoon of Marines in Iraq and later earned an MBA from Harvard. In Charlotte, he took a job with McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm. After leaving there in 2012 and taking a year-long hiatus, he started a company with Rye Barcott, a former Marine he’d met at Harvard.

The company, Double Time Capital, invested in solar energy projects. In 2017 Fortune Magazine reported that the two had raised $80 million from investors, including former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. and the late Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers.

McCready wasn’t particularly political. In 2016, he 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 former Democrat, he re-registered with the party in January 2017, just in time for his first run for office.

In a district that hadn’t elected a Democrat in decades, McCready promised to “put country over party to get things done.” Critics called that a vague substitute for more detailed policy positions and said the bi-partisan rhetoric masked a liberal agenda reinforced by more than $364,000 from a political action committee tied to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In response to criticism from Harris and others, he promised not to vote for her for speaker.

Follow more of our reporting on The North Carolina election fraud investigation

See all 10 stories
Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.