The campaign committee charged with electing House Democrats is seeking to reassure party officials that it remains fully engaged in a key special election set to be decided next month in North Carolina.
A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee memo, reviewed by The Washington Post and distributed Thursday to key lawmakers and officials, detailed the committee’s efforts ahead of the Sept. 10 election after Republican groups reserved nearly $4 million of television ads aimed at electing GOP candidate Dan Bishop over Democrat Dan McCready.
In the memo, the group compared the North Carolina race to the 2017 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, where Democrat Conor Lamb notched a shocking win in a district President Trump won by 20 points.
“The DCCC’s strategic investments in that race, also in a deep-red district, allowed [Lamb] to carry his own message to voters in Western Pennsylvania, where early, overt national Democratic investment would have been a net-negative for the campaign,” the memo reads, noting that the committee is currently spending “well over” $2 million on the race.
North Carolina’s 9th District is also tilted heavily toward Republicans — Trump won it by 12 points in 2016. But McCready ran neck-and-neck in the 2018 midterm election, which was vacated in February amid allegations of fraud by a campaign operative hired by Republican candidate Mark Harris.
The stakes in the special election go beyond a single House seat: A Democratic win could douse the GOP’s hopes of retaking the majority in 2020 and accelerate a spate of incumbent retirements. A Republican win, meanwhile, could give the GOP momentum toward retaking dozens of House districts that Trump won and are now held by Democrats.
McCready has significantly outraised Bishop, according to campaign finance reports current through June 30, collecting $3.1 million to Bishop’s $1.1 million. But Bishop’s spending is being supplemented by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and the Club for Growth. McCready is receiving more modest support from the Environmental Defense Action Fund and VoteVets.
Public polling has been scant, but the DCCC memo says the race is “running within the margin of error going into the closing weeks.”
Concern has risen among Democrats over the past two weeks after the NRCC and the CLF reserved their combined $4 million in ads while the DCCC and the main Democratic super PAC, the House Majority PAC, have remained on the sidelines. A sudden and drastic DCCC leadership shake-up last week has only compounded those concerns, leading some Democrats to question whether Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the committee’s chair, was keeping her focus on the North Carolina race.
The memo aims to put that at rest by painting the Republican ad buys as “nothing other than pure panic” and highlighting the DCCC’s “early and intentionally non-flashy investment.” It lays out a strategy of allowing the McCready campaign to use its own considerable resources to focus on television advertising — where, as a candidate, he is entitled to more favorable rates — while focusing committee resources on driving turnout among African Americans and members of the Lumbee tribe of Native Americans, key groups of Democratic voters.
A Democratic official familiar with the race but not authorized to comment publicly said the DCCC, which has had its commitment to diversity called into question, is working on the race with multiple black-owned vendors. The memo noted that the committee is conducting “early research on African American voter motivation that will be road-tested in this race and scaled for the full battlefield in 2020.”
Cole Leiter, a DCCC spokesman, declined to comment on the memo. The Democratic official said McCready’s campaign probably will add TV spending, and the DCCC has not ruled out potentially airing ads closer to the election.
McCready’s campaign has emphasized his background as a Marine veteran and businessman, while Republican groups are using their advertising to cast doubt on his career as a solar-energy investor and paint him as too liberal for the district, which reaches from the Charlotte suburbs into rural areas east of the city.
One GOP operative suggested Democrats are only seeking to obscure their own internal turmoil.
“Cheri Bustos is going to have a tough time running Dan McGreedy’s ground game when she fired her entire senior staff just weeks before election day,” NRCC spokesman Chris Pack said in a statement, using an epithet for McCready being used in GOP advertising.