McCready met his wife, Laura, on a backpacking trip at Duke. He was immediately smitten. She was a harder sell. “That was my first three-year campaign,” he said wryly. It was good practice. Running for office that long takes a toll on a candidate, on staff, and on voters.
“It’s a completely unique situation,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College. “I think he’s still trying to portray himself as an outsider, as a non-politician, but I’m not sure you can claim outsidership when you’ve been running for two and a half, three years for the same seat.”
McCready says the revelation of the fraud gave him new purpose to keep going.
“When they stole these people's votes—you know they targeted the elderly, they targeted African Americans, they targeted Native Americans—I thought I had to fight back,” he said. “Your vote is your voice. If you don't have that, you don't have anything. This is the people's chance to get justice and there's nothing to do but give it our all.”
“But I’m ready to be done.”
Of course, if McCready does win, he’ll have to turn around and begin campaigning for reelection in 2020 almost immediately, but he doesn’t want to talk—or think—about that right now.
Over the course of two years, issues can change, too. McCready began his campaign running with a Republican majority in Congress. Now Democrats are in charge of the House, and there’s a hotly contested presidential primary. McCready also has a much stronger opponent in Bishop than he did in Harris. Harris won the 2018 primary by running to Pittenger’s right, but turned out to be a flawed candidate even before the revelation of electoral fraud. Bishop combines much of Harris’s conservatism with the seasoning of a career in politics. Naturally, that can cut both ways. Bishop was the architect of North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill,” and McCready has criticized him for his votes on health care in the state legislature. (Bishop’s campaign did not respond to interview requests.)
While some Republicans running in 2018 tried to localize their races, deflecting attention away from the unpopular president, Bishop has been happy to nationalize his bid. He has criticized McCready for taking a donation from Representative Ilhan Omar (which McCready later returned). A Bishop ad tied him to Omar, other members of the “squad,” and Senator Bernie Sanders. A Republican ad called him an “Elizabeth Warren Democrat.”
“When the Republicans were in charge in November, it was, Oh, those mean nasty Republicans. Well, now it's more like, Wait a second, you guys weren't supposed to go up there and take a hard left turn like you're going straight to California. You were supposed to govern as moderates,” says Larry Shaheen, a Republican strategist in Charlotte who backs Bishop. “Dan McCready has unfortunate timing, and now he is stuck with the leadership team in Washington, which does not play well to your average North Carolinian.”