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It's quiet in North Carolina's 9th District. Shifting sands could make race close anyway.

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 10/27/2020 Austin Weinstein, The Charlotte Observer

After two hard-fought battles for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, many wrote off the Democrats’ chances to take the controversial seat in 2020.

Just over a year ago, Republican Dan Bishop dispatched well-funded Democrat Dan McCready in a special election for the district. That was after 2018’s election for the seat was invalidated due to alleged election fraud to benefit the Republican candidate, Baptist pastor Mark Harris, led by longtime GOP operative McCrae Dowless.

Both races attracted national attention, with President Donald Trump campaigning on Bishop’s behalf in the district that now, after a redistricting, meanders from south Charlotte to Robeson County.

After all that attention and media coverage, some Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief that, so far, the race has been relatively quiet. But Democrats, with their candidate Cynthia Wallace, a finance executive, hope that trends quietly reshaping the district can make the race competitive.

“So far, I think this one is a very quiet race. Under the radar, really,” said John Steward, Republican Party chair for the district. “I don’t take anything for granted, though. The Presidential election is still going to get a lot of people to the polls.”

‘Everyone kind of forgot’

In the year since his election, Bishop has raised over $1.46 million and entrenched his ties to Trump.

Democratic leaders have focused the bulk of their attention, instead, on the 8th Congressional District, which borders the 9th to the north. In that race, Pat Timmons-Goodson, the first black woman on the North Carolina Supreme Court, is in a tight race against Rep. Richard Hudson. That race has attracted millions in spending on both sides.

But despite the quiet so far, some analysts see signs that the race could be surprisingly competitive.

“Everyone kind of forgot about the district because they were so sick of it after two straight contentious elections and a national spotlight,” said Dave Wasserman, House Editor of The Cook Political Report. “That doesn’t mean the district has gotten any less competitive.”

Wasserman surprised some observers when he moved the 9th District to a rating of “Leans Republican” last week. National political groups have not prioritized the race, and Wallace has raised just $639,000.

“We know that Union County is going to be pretty strong for Bishop and Trump,” Wasserman said. “We know that Mecklenburg County is getting better for Democrats by the year. And we also know that nonwhite turnout is likely to be higher in the eastern portion of the district. To me, it seems like a competitive race.”

Republicans haven’t abandoned the district, as national leaders consider the district’s residents crucial to winning tight statewide races for president and Senate. The district, as drawn now, went for Trump 54%-43% in 2016.

Trump held a rally in Lumberton, in Robeson County, Saturday after announcing support for federal recognition of the Lumbee tribe. The county of roughly 130,000 — which has a plurality of Native Americans, mostly Lumbee — swung for Trump in 2016 after voting Democratic in prior presidential elections. Bishop and Wallace have both endorsed Lumbee recognition.

‘I’ve lived the struggles’

In her bid to unseat Bishop, Wallace is pitching herself as someone who is comfortable in both the district’s tony suburbs of Ballantyne and the farms of Hoke County. She has worked at Synchrony Financial, the largest private-label credit card company in the U.S., for 20 years. But she also grew up in rural Georgia and her first job was as a cashier at Wal-Mart in high school.

“What you’ll get when you elect me is someone who is not afraid of working across lines,” Wallace said in an interview. “I’ve lived the struggles that the folks here have lived.”

Like many Democratic candidates running in Republican leaning-districts, she’s made healthcare a focus of her campaign. She wants to lower prescription drug costs, protect pre-existing conditions and expand COVID-19 testing capacity.

Bishop’s case for re-election is made up of both red meat for his base as well as some overtures toward moderate voters. He originally rose to conservative fame as the main sponsor of HB2, which required people to use the bathroom in public facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate.

So far, his campaign aired ads that highlighted help he gave to a local business in getting a Paycheck Protection Program loan, all the while publicizing articles about Hunter Biden on Twitter.

“Constituents say my most important work has been to help families and businesses cope with the pandemic,” Bishop said in a statement. He took office in September 2019, serving only about half a year before the pandemic began in earnest in March.

“Supporting and shaping the CARES Act was just the beginning of a lot of intensive effort. We cleared obstacles and spread the word to thousands to get them the help they needed to keep putting food on the table,” Bishop said. “I know how to get things done and make the government work for my constituents. That is being noticed in Washington. I will help us build back the greatest economy we’ve ever seen and keep our families safe and healthy.”

Editor’s note: Due to an error in FEC data, an earlier version of this article said that Bishop had raised $3.75 million in the year since his election. He has raised $1.46 million.

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©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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