Elections

9th District’s near-record $10.7 million in outside spending fuels blitz of TV ads

Dan vs. Dan: The two front-runners in the NC District 9 special election

Republican candidate Dan Bishop and Democratic candidate Dan McCready are fighting for the North Carolina 9th District seat.
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Republican candidate Dan Bishop and Democratic candidate Dan McCready are fighting for the North Carolina 9th District seat.

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9th Congressional District special election

Republican Dan Bishop, Democrat Dan McCready, Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith are running in the Sept. 10 special election.

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Only one House special election in U.S. history has seen more outside spending than North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where groups are spending more than $10.7 million to blitz the airwaves with ads.

Outside spending favors Republican Dan Bishop nearly 2-1 over Democrat Dan McCready, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. That offsets what had been McCready’s fundraising advantage.

The spending eclipses the nearly $9 million spent in Florida’s 13th District in 2014, though it’s far behind the record-shattering $27 million spent in Georgia’s nationally watched 2017 congressional race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel.

“What this amount of money indicates is how much both parties are willing to truly invest in elections that may not have a governing consequence but have more strategy and symbolism,” said political scientist Michael Bitzer of Catawba College.

Bishop and McCready face off in Tuesday’s special election. Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith are also running. The seat has been vacant since January after an absentee ballot scandal nullified the results of the 2018 election.

Most of the outside spending has come from the party’s and their allies.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is the top spender in the race, pouring $3.1 million into anti-McCready attack ads. The group is spending far more than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee despite having less cash on hand, signaling that the group believes it needs to win this race heading into 2020.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to House Republican leaders, spent $2.3 million on ads attacking McCready. And Club for Growth Action, an anti-tax group, spent just under $1 million on ads attacking McCready and canvassing for Bishop.

Meanwhile the DCCC is the top spender for McCready, with $1.2 million spent on anti-Bishop ads.

With just days left in the campaign, outside groups have spent $6.8 million helping Bishop and $3.9 million boosting McCready, the Center for Responsive Politics found.

All the outside groups involved in the congressional race are Washington-run and funded. No North Carolina groups are among the big spenders.

North Carolina has seen heavy campaign spending before. The 2014 U.S. Senate battle between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis drew $86 million in outside spending, a single-race record at the time.

‘Dark money’

Bishop has criticized McCready for his support from groups that take so-called dark money, even as he has denounced it. Dark money donors are not disclosed.

“Dark money has no place in our politics,” McCready tweeted last year.

But in fact supporters of both candidates have used dark money.

House Majority Forward is the top dark money spender, investing about $647,000 on pro-McCready ads. The recently established non-profit shares staff and office space with the Democrats’ flagship super-PAC, House Majority PAC.

VoteVets.org Action Fund is yet another dark-money nonprofit backing McCready. The group spent nearly $227,000 in early August and hasn’t reported spending since.

These groups are not required to disclose their donors. The Federal Election Commission requires that nonprofits disclose all contributions for political purposes — the organizations say they haven’t received any such contributions.

On the Republican side, the Congressional Leadership Fund has received $3.5 million from dark money group American Action Network — with which it shares its Washington office and employees.

TV ads

Campaigns and outside groups are prohibited from coordinating their messages. But the messages in the 9th District are often eerily similar.

Bishop uploaded silent b-roll footage for super PACs to use. McCready did the same. The footage shows the candidates in the kind of “casual” conversations with voters that often form a backdrop to TV ads. And one Democratic dark money group, House Majority Forward, uses some of McCready’s background video in its ads.

Many TV ads are focused on McCready and his green energy business, for better or worse. Almost all of the Democratic groups similarly praise McCready as a job creator and someone who can “work across the aisle” to give North Carolinians better health care.

On the other hand, the NRCC, CLF and Club for Growth have all dubbed the Democrat “Greedy McCready” over how he ran his business. Although the party and super PACs are pushing the same message, Bishop has focused more on McCready’s statements on immigration and his support from President Donald Trump.

Top spenders

Here are the top outside spenders for:

Bishop

NRCC: $3.1 million

Congressional Leadership Fund: $2.3 million

Club for Growth Action: $1 million

Committee to Defend the President: $204,500

House Freedom Action: $84,100

McCready

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: $1.2 million

House Majority Forward: $1.06 million

Environmental Defense Fund: $936,000

League of Conservation Voters: $243,000

VoteVets Action Fund: $227,000.

This story was produced in partnership between The Charlotte Observer and OpenSecrets.org. Evers-Hillstrom is the group’s Money-In-Politics reporter.

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