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How genuine is a Democrat who talks like a conservative? In an ad, Mark Harris, a former pastor and Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, holds up two blue T-shirts to raise that question. One is light blue, the other royal blue — but hues can deceive, he suggests.
In other words, Harris’s Democratic opponent, businessman Dan McCready, isn’t showing his true colors. McCready "talks like a conservative but is shading the truth," Harris tells viewers. "He donated to Hillary Clinton. Took money from the Pelosi crowd. McCready’s team wants to grow government, and repeal your tax cut. He’s with them, no matter how he tries to color it."
Conservative and liberal shadings play a role in this race. The seat has been held by Republicans since 1963 but suddenly is competitive. McCready, the Democrat, says that if elected, he won't vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader, or House speaker if the party wins a majority.
But Harris says McCready is just trying to hide that he is "with" the "Pelosi crowd." So we took a look at the ad’s factual claims to find out.
Federal campaign records show McCready, a Marine veteran, Harvard MBA and investor in solar farms, donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. He gave $500 to Clinton’s presidential campaign and $500 to the Hillary Victory Fund, a fundraising entity that gave proceeds to Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties across the country.
But what about the "Pelosi crowd?"
We asked the Harris campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports Republican candidates. They cited donations to McCready by Democrats on Pelosi’s leadership team. They also said the House Majority PAC, a leading super PAC spending heavily to elect Democrats, has spent money in the race.
Tallies tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics show the House Majority PAC has spent $327,925 to oppose Harris. Technically, this is not Pelosi’s PAC, but it is considered affiliated. It works on the same goal as Pelosi: to win a Democratic House majority. And while the money is not legally considered a donation to McCready, it unquestionably helps him. Through its founder, the PAC has ties to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, the official campaign arm of House Democrats -- and Pelosi is the House Democrats’ elected leader. Also:
The DCCC supports McCready. While it would likely support any Democrat who has a chance of winning, McCready was among the first candidates on the DCCC’s "Red to Blue" list, which "arms top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support," the DCCC said when announcing this.
Pelosi chose Rep. Ray Ray Lujan, of New Mexico, to chair the DCCC, although fellow Democrats had to affirm her choice. That puts him in the "Pelosi crowd," the NRCC said. Lujan has his own leadership PAC, Turquoise PAC, and the PAC along with Lujan’s own reelection campaign committee have given McCready $5,000.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland is the House Democratic whip, a key member of the Pelosi leadership team. He has given McCready’s campaign $14,000 through his own leadership PAC and his campaign committee.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina is assistant Democratic leader. His leadership PAC gave McCready $5,000. The PAC affiliated with Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, the Democratic caucus vice chair, donated $2,000..
McCready "has the blessing of party leaders — he is their candidate," Kerry Rom from the NRCC told us. "Support from Pelosi-linked organizations and her leadership team tells us where he ultimately stands on the issues."
Is there a straight line from financial support for a candidate and the people — say, Pelosi — he’ll support?
Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said it’s more like a set of "big, gray smudges."
"It would be folly to say that Nancy Pelosi has nothing to do" with decisions on where to put House leadership or allied resources, Greene said. "But it doesn’t suppose any loyalty to Pelosi" on McCready’s part, since McCready has made clear he wants a different Democratic House leader.
McCready in November criticized Pelosi in a Charlotte Observer column, saying Pelosi "used moves from the Bill Clinton-era playbook" when initially defending Rep. John Conyers against charges of sexual assault. McCready told the Washington Post and others that Democrats need "new blood." His campaign told PolitiFact that if elected, McCready will not vote for Pelosi as leader.
And he has received campaign donations from others who want Pelosi out. For example, the NRCC, in an email to us, listed Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as part of Team Pelosi. Crowley’s leadership PAC donated $5,000 to McCready. But Crowley — who lost his recent primary election and won’t be in Congress next year — had said he would oppose Pelosi’s return to leadership.
Harris uses the "Pelosi crowd" label to say that McCready wants to "grow government and repeal your tax cut." Yet there is no evidence of that. McCready has only said he wants to make sure the tax cuts for individuals and families stay in place after their scheduled 2025 expiration.
"Dan will fight for middle-class tax cuts and policies to level the playing field for hardworking North Carolinians," his campaign website says.
It is impossible to know what other policies "to level the field" might face a House vote, although some liberal Democrats have suggested raising corporate income tax rates closer to their pre-cut levels. This takes us into supposition for issue after issue: What would McCready do?
That is actually the subtext of the Harris ad. McCready is a Democrat. He's "with" the Pelosi crowd.
But there are degrees of beliefs and votes within the Democratic Party. To simplify in the spirit of the ad: There are California Democrats, and there are Southern Democrats. They are not all the same.
Are there ties between members of Team Pelosi and McCready? Absolutely. Does McCready support the same agenda as Democratic leaders such as Pelosi? Based on his website, he supports much of it, but it is the agenda of Democrats in general. He opposes turning Medicare into a voucher program. (House Republicans have proposed a program they say would be entirely voluntary.) He wants to protect the EPA from "a hatchet." He supports abortion rights.
Such agreement, however, would make the overwhelming majority of Democrats "in with" Pelosi. It would mean the southern "blue dog" Democrats are. It would mean the East and West Coast Democrats are -- even those who want to replace her because they say she hasn't been foreceful or confrontational enough. There would be few distinctions
When Republicans invoke Pelosi’s name and say an opponent is "with them," they are using "shorthand for ‘Oh, those liberals,’" Greene said. Harris’ claim has elements of truth. But it affixes a generic label that needs fuller context. We can’t say which shade of blue will come out of the wash, but we can rate the claim: Half True.
Mark Harris campaign ad, Sept. 20, 2018
Email correspondence with Jordan Shaw, Harris campaign spokesman, Sept. 26, 2018
Email correspondence with Kerry Rom, National Republican Congressional Committee, Sept. 26, 2018
Telephone and email conversations with Aaron Simpson, spokesman for Dan McCready campaign, Sept. 25 and 26, 2018
Telephone interview with Steven Greene, North Carolina State University professor, Sept. 26, 2018
Federal Election Commission, campaign finance reports and databases, accessed Sept. 26 and 27, 2018
Center for Responsive Politics, campaign finance databases accessed Sept. 26 and 27, 2018
Dan McCready statement on tax reform, Dec. 2, 2017
McCready for Congress website, "Issues"
Press releases, "DCCC Chairman Lujan announces first round of Red to Blue Candidates," Nov. 15, 2017
"Leaders of both parties lack courage on sexual assault," by Dan McCready, Charlotte Observer, Nov. 19, 2017
"Can NC Democrats inoculate themselves from GOP attacks on Pelosi?" by Jim Morrill, Charlotte Observer, March 20, 2018
"Pelosi says she’ll run for speaker, as more swing-district Democrats look for alternative," by David Weigel, Washington Post, May 1, 2018
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