North Carolina's most infamous political story lines of recent years are merging into a congressional race this summer that pits the architect of the state's "bathroom bill" against a Democrat who was granted an electoral do-over after evidence of ballot fraud tainted his prior opponent's campaign.
State Sen. Dan Bishop topped nine other Republican candidates seeking the 9th Congressional District nomination on Tuesday, winning almost half of the ballots cast in an extremely low turnout election that drew less than 10% of the eligible voters. He will face Democrat Dan McCready, as well as Libertarian and Green candidates, on Sept. 10.
Bishop's role as sponsor of a headline-grabbing "bathroom bill" that voided anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people is likely to be a focal point in this repeat race, ordered by election officials who deemed last year's contest too tainted to stand. And despite the low turnout on Tuesday, the general election could draw a heavy infusion of political cash on both sides because it's virtually alone on the political calendar this year.
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The vote count last November showed McCready, a former Marine and Harvard MBA, narrowly losing to Republican Mark Harris. But then, an investigation found Harris ignored warnings and paid a political operative who collected mail-in ballots. Harris opted not to run again.
In 2016, Bishop sponsored House Bill 2, the law that voided a Charlotte ordinance expanding LGBT rights and prevented similar anti-discrimination rules anywhere else in the state. HB2 was nicknamed the "bathroom bill" because it also directed transgender people to use public bathrooms and showers that matched their birth sex. The measure made waves nationally and prompted boycotts by entertainers, governments and some businesses thinking about moving jobs to North Carolina.
Bishop said while voters knew HB2 had his whole-hearted backing, the law was partially repealed in 2017 and is no longer as important as other issues.
"People are astonished and amazed and dismayed at what they see coming out of Washington these days from liberal crazy clowns. Socialism. Open borders. Infanticide. 90% tax rates. Having prison inmates vote. It goes on and on," Bishop told supporters Tuesday night. "And of course, most of all, an incessant drive to impeach the president."
With conflict between President Donald Trump and Washington Democrats heating up after the investigation into Russian support for the president's 2016 campaign, the four-month contest between Bishop and McCready is expected to serve as a measure of political tides and an open vault for donors.
McCready ran a solar-energy financing fund before starting his run for Congress two years ago. He's built up his name recognition over the extended campaign and had almost $1.6 million in cash on hand as of May 2, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
But McCready will be swimming upstream in a congressional district that has been in GOP hands since 1963 and which Trump won by 12 percentage points in 2016. The district stretches from suburban Charlotte to suburban Fayetteville along the South Carolina border.
Bishop accused McCready of refusing to clearly state his positions on public issues during last year's primary and general elections.
McCready "went through two elections without telling anyone where he stood on anything. That ends tomorrow," Bishop said Tuesday night.
McCready last year said he would not support Nancy Pelosi for her top leadership role in the U.S. House. She was elected speaker in January after Democrats took over the House majority. McCready refused during an October debate to rule in or out whether he supported impeaching Trump.
But the GOP's brand also has suffered in the wake of the much-publicized investigation into Harris's campaign, followed last month by federal charges accusing the state party's chairman of working with a big-money donor to try bribing North Carolina's top insurance regulator.