FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The president and vice president campaigned across North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District on Monday, the frenzied, final day of a special election widely seen not just as razor close but also as a possible harbinger of 2020.

President Donald Trump rallied supporters in Fayetteville Monday night for Republican Dan Bishop. Vice President Mike Pence joined him after appearing with Bishop before more than 500 enthusiastic supporters at Wingate University.

Meanwhile, Democrat Dan McCready urged fellow veterans in Fayetteville to help him get out the vote.

McCready and Bishop were in the final stage of a special election that’s garnered national attention and money. Only one other special House election in U.S. history has seen more in outside spending than the nearly $11 million spent in the 9th District.

Trump won the district by nearly 12 points in 2016. But polls show the race is a toss-up. Libertarian Jeff Scott and Allen Smith of the Green Party are also running.

In Fayetteville, Trump urged supporters to elect Bishop. “Tomorrow you will head to the polls to elect a congressman who will always put America first — Dan Bishop,” Trump told a packed Crown Complex. “ … Tomorrow is your chance to send a message to the America-hating Left.”

Some have seen the election as a test of Trump’s strength in a state he carried in 2016 and which is expected to be a battleground again in 2020. National reporters have swarmed into the district for an election that Pence told supporters at Wingate “has implications all across America.”

At Wingate, Bishop cast the election as “a stark choice between freedom and opportunity and socialism.” Later he made the point on stage with the president.

“We’ve all watched as the Democratic Party, the socialist Democrat Party, seeks the president’s destruction every day,” he said.

McCready spokesman Matt Fried said the candidate’s response “is exactly what we did today in Fayetteville: Stand with a bipartisan group of vets. They care about putting our country first.”

In hailing his own immigration policies, Trump criticized the release of an undocumented man from Mecklenburg County Jail.

Sheriff Garry McFadden had released Luis Pineda-Ancheta, an immigrant who’d illegally reentered the U.S. and who had been arrested on charges related to domestic violence. ICE asked McFadden to keep Pineda-Ancheta in jail until they could pick him up — a request that was ignored — and arrested him a day later.

McFadden, who as a policy does not honor such requests, has repeatedly said that it falls to a magistrate or a judge, not him or his deputies, on whether to release an inmate from jail.

Earlier, Pence had criticized Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s August veto of a bill that would have required North Carolina sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration agents. McCready supported the governor’s veto.

Trump said McCready believes in open borders. Fact checkers have rated that claim false.

At the kickoff to a canvassing event with veterans in Fayetteville, McCready talked about health care, education and investment in Eastern North Carolina. A former Marine, he drew on his own military experience in which he said no one cared about race or party and instead focused on putting the country first, a value he said is missing in Washington.

He alluded to the reason for the special election: findings of election fraud in Bladen County that nullified the 2018 election, where he trailed Republican Mark Harris by 905 votes on Election Day.

“This has been a campaign where we face politics at its worst,” McCready said. “We faced politics at its worst in Bladen County, where we saw them steal absentee ballots from voters’ doorsteps and target the elderly and African Americans and Native Americans.”

McCready said that in the last 24 hours before the race, he was focused on reaching as many voters as possible, regardless of party. “This is an old school grassroots campaign, and we’re talking with Democrats, independents and Republicans to share our message of working together to lower healthcare costs and strengthen public schools.”

As Trump and Pence campaign for Bishop, McCready said this special election is not about Washington but about what matters to voters here in North Carolina.

“There’s only one person in this race who has served our country in uniform, who has already fought to keep our country safe, and it ain’t Dan Bishop,” he said.

Outside spending favored Bishop nearly 2-to-1 over McCready, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. That helped offset what had been McCready’s fundraising advantage.

But a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Monday much of its $5 million investment was under the radar.

The DCCC decided “to quietly invest in the race … and avoid an air war that would nationalize the race,” spokesman Cole Leiter said in a news release. Democrats believe that one reason they lost a special election in Georgia two years ago was because of all the national support — and money — garnered by Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Conservative Bill Kristol, now a visiting fellow at Davidson College and frequent Trump critic, said Monday the president may expect Bishop to win and wants to share in the spotlight if he does. But if Bishop loses despite the administration’s investment of time and attention, “Then you could imagine things may be quite different in 2020 than they were in 2016,” Kristol said.

Even before Trump arrived in Fayetteville, it was clear his involvement is important to many Bishop voters. One was George Digh, 66, of Mint Hill.

Standing in line at Wingate to hear Pence, he said he was attending his first political rally. He supports Bishop because “he’s a disciple of Donald Trump.”

And Ann Hamilton of Monroe said she just wants to vote Republican. “We could lose our freedom of religion if Democrats get in office,” said Hamilton, 85. “Plus they’re murdering babies.”

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©2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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