WADESBORO, North Carolina — By the end of the summer, towns such as this will be flooded with national reporters covering the special election for the 9th Congressional District.
In normal times, reporters would ask voters how they think Republican Dan Bishop or Democrat Dan McCready would represent their local concerns in Washington. But these are not normal times.
Instead, the questions will mostly be about Donald Trump, and about Kamala Harris or Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg.
The very existence of this race is abnormal, in fact. Voters in this district, which reaches from here to central Charlotte, have to come back for a do-over because of voter fraud in the November 2018 election.
The 2018 Republican nominee, Mark Harris, the center of the tainted votes, has dropped out of the do-over race, citing health issues. Instead Bishop, a state senator, will face McCready, the businessman who lost to Harris in that race.
Bob Orr, a former justice on the state Supreme Court, is one of those voters whose visceral distaste for Trump has incensed him so much that he abandoned his Republican roots to support McCready over Bishop, a man he admits he knows.
"I've always had a cordial relationship with Dan," Orr said. "Dan Bishop's an ideologue. He is a very, very conservative ideologue and if elected will go to Congress and just fall in line with whatever the Trump crowd tells him they need to do."
Orr was the state chairman of John Kasich's campaign in 2016 and a delegate to the Republican convention — until he walked out in protest of Trump.
"I'm adamantly opposed to the NRA using the Second Amendment as a fundraising tool," he said, but he admits there is a slight hypocrisy because the Democrats do the same thing in reverse.
"A plague and pox on both houses," he answers.
He is an example of the suburban moderate Republican who fled the Party and handed Democrats the House in 2018.
Bishop understands the risks of the race becoming too nationalized in the closing weeks this summer because of voters such as Orr who let their distaste for the president veer them away from their conservative roots.
He said: "I run into that some. Not as much as you might think. I was the only Republican to be reelected in November of 2018 in Mecklenburg County, where the wins were running in the other direction and there was some sentiment running against the President. I think that sentiment has attenuated." Many of the suburban voters in his home base of Charlotte have overcome their reservations about the president, Bishop says, "and have come to see him as an essential fighter."
Bishop also keenly understands that a realignment has happened in his party and he needs to adapt if he's going to be a good representative. His focus, he says, is on affordable health care, school choice and lifting up the economics in the rural areas.
"In Charlotte, where I'm from, it had been an up-and-coming, booming urban center," he said. "There's tremendous economic opportunities there. It has its own challenges, but bridging that gap and extending those opportunities to the more rural areas of North Carolina are absolutely critical."
And that begins, he says, with health care: "There are a lot of folks who have hospitals that have closed or are in danger of closing at all points. The national health care policy that we've seen towards a bigger government-dominated health care space, insurance that may be provided through ACA (Affordable Care Act) but with deductibles that they can't afford to use it."
"It is something that is not serving people's needs," he said. "They need a highly competitive health care space that will result in transparency, so that consumers are brought into the decision making and can over time help bring down costs, and yet make health care access better. That's critical."
McCready, for his part, isn't ceding 1 inch of his chances or the issue of health care to Bishop. The former Marines captain who served in Iraq sees Obamacare as essential.
He said: "We need to stick to the ACA. I would say the problem is not coming up with common-sense reform to lower health care costs, while maintaining coverage. The problem is that we don't have the people in Washington who will sit down and work together to do it."
Like the lesser-known new House moderates who won in swing suburban districts across the country last year but often exist in the shadow of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, McCready would like join the bipartisan House "problem-solvers" caucus.
He says: "The thing that I found with North Carolina is that you have the vast majority of people want to put country over political party. Whether you're a Republican or an independent, or you're a Democrat."
Both men are bracing for the race to go national in the final stretch and are trying to keep the focus on issues rather than personalities.
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