Taylor Batten

In Pittenger-McCready race, who would dish out the stress?

Democrat Dan McCready
Democrat Dan McCready Observer photo

Eastover, one of Charlotte’s wealthiest neighborhoods, isn’t known as a bastion of liberalism. But its streets were filled with hundreds of cars last month as some of Charlotte’s biggest names streamed into Sarah and Tim Belk’s home to support a little-known, until now, 34-year-old Democrat named Dan McCready.

McCready is running for the congressional seat held by Republican Robert Pittenger. A Republican has held the seat since 1963 (though with very different boundaries over the years), but McCready thinks he has a chance, and the rest of the country is starting to realize he’s right.

Former Bank of America chief Hugh McColl stood in the Belks’ living room at that March fundraiser, and extolled McCready’s service as a Marine. McColl’s own time in the Marines, and his pride in it, is legendary, so he spoke authoritatively about how the experience would help McCready in Congress.

That was fitting because McCready, like several other congressional candidates around the country, is emphasizing his stint in the military (he led two platoons in Iraq in 2007-08) as a big part of his centrist, country-first persona. It worked for Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old Democrat who won last month in a Pennsylvania district that Donald Trump had carried by 20 points.

The nation is watching, because of 435 U.S. House seats up for election this fall, only about 10 to 15 percent are likely to be remotely competitive. The Cook Political Report on Friday shifted its rating of Pittenger’s race from likely Republican to leans Republican. Larry Sabato, a well-known prognosticator at the University of Virginia, made the same shift last month, as did CNN.

McCready raised $1.1 million in 2017 – more than Pittenger and Republican challenger Mark Harris combined.

Pittenger in control

He’ll need every penny he can get. Though McCready has people talking, Pittenger is still in control. The district – running from south Charlotte through Union County and out to Lumberton and the edges of Fayetteville – backed Trump by 12 points two years ago. That’s why Pittenger and Harris are professing their love for the president like frogs seeking a princess’s kiss.

McCready hasn’t emphasized his thoughts on Trump – though his distaste for the president was evident in an op-ed he sent the Observer two years ago. He also hasn’t staked himself out on divisive issues. He’ll have to soon.

Pittenger announced this week that he raised $457,000 in the first quarter, and national Republicans such as incoming Trump adviser John Bolton and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are fighting for him. Assuming he beats back Harris in the primary, as at least one poll suggests he will, Pittenger will start the general election with a clear edge. (McCready faces a primary challenge as well, from Christian Cano.)

The strengths and weaknesses and policy views of each candidate will play some role. But McCready’s chances of pulling off the upset will hinge at least as much on the national political winds. If there’s an overwhelming blue wave, McCready is poised to ride it. Without that, he has little shot.

At the March fundraiser, McCready recalled asking former CEO McColl how he takes all the stress. “I don’t take stress,” McColl told him. “I give it.”

McCready might just do the same.

tbatten@charlotteobserver.com

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