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North Carolina congressional race could be key in battle for the House

Battleground Tracker: Democratic lead continues to grow in race for the House

Democrats are expected to take the House in November, but that victory is dependent on a few key races, primarily in swing districts. However, there are some districts which have been longtime Republican strongholds, but due to demographic changes and urbanization are leaning left in the midterm elections.

North Carolina is a swing state, and its 9th Congressional District, which has been represented by a Republican since the 1960s, is one of the most competitive House races this year. Voters must choose between a conservative pastor and a Democratic veteran who promises not vote for Nancy Pelosi to be House minority leader. The outcome of this race could be an indicator of where the country at large is politically, and how the political composition of swing states could be changing.

Mark Harris made headlines in May when he defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary. Pittenger was hardly a moderate -- he voted in line with President Trump nearly 98 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. However, Harris, who narrowly lost to Pittenger in 2016, insisted that Pittenger is a member of the Washington swamp. He also promised to support Freedom Caucus co-founder Rep. Jim Jordan as speaker of the House if elected.

Harris, a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump, is known for his controversial positions on LGBT rights. As president of the Baptist State Convention in 2012, Harris helped lead the fight for a state constitutional amendment which banned same-sex marriage in the state. This amendment was overturned by the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges. 

Harris also supported the controversial "bathroom bill" in 2015 that barred transgender individuals from using the bathroom for their gender identity. On his campaign website, Harris touts his role in both of these campaigns, and says he is "a supporter of our traditional family values."

Harris has also taken heat for a sermon he gave in 2013 in which he questioned whether having a career was the "healthiest pursuit" for women, and said that women should remember their "core calling" of being a wife and mother. Harris has said that those words were taken out of context.

Unlike in other races, where a far-right candidate is paired with a far-left opponent, McCready is a moderate Democrat. He is small business owner and a Marine veteran, the make and model of the national Democratic Party's preferred candidate for red areas. 

He has drawn comparisons to Conor Lamb, the Democrat who won a special election race in a rural, Republican-held Pennsylvania district earlier this year. McCready has said that the Affordable Care Act is "broken," and does not support a "government-run" system of health care, according to an interview with McClatchy, differing from many other Democratic candidates across the country who support some version of "Medicare for All."

The race in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District has attracted prominent political figures on both sides of the aisle. Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen, rallied for Harris earlier this month. Mr. Trump appeared with Harris at a Republican fundraiser at the end of August. Harris also has support from PACs such as the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with House Republicans, and the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, McCready has attracted support from South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

McCready has outraised Harris two to one, having raised over $4 million to Harris' $1.6 million. McCready has also been appealing to a broad coalition of voters; issues listed on his campaign website include protecting the Lumbee Indian Tribe, supporting women's rights and voting rights. He criticizes politicians who "try to disenfranchise African Americans and roll back voting rights" and "draw political district lines to pack black people into clusters, silencing their voices."

The district stretches from southeastern Charlotte to Fayetteville, covering more rural and urban areas. Although it voted for Mr. Trump by 12 points in 2016, if McCready is able to prove his moderate bona fides, and encourage turnout among minority groups, he could turn a red district blue.

The CBS News Battleground Tracker rates this race as a "toss up." A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll found that Democrats are currently on track to gain a 226-seat majority in the midterm elections, although many races are extremely close and it wouldn't take much to move that number in either direction.