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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In a sign that rich flows of untraceable money are expected to influence the election for a North Carolina congressional seat left vacant after earlier allegations of ballot fraud, a cleanly produced video of the Republican candidate has been posted online for use by supportive outside groups.
The 10-minute silent video of state Sen. Dan Bishop uploaded onto YouTube is a likely invitation for a super PAC — which can't legally coordinate with a campaign — to use the footage in ads on his behalf in the 9th Congressional District re-do election against Democrat Dan McCready, High Point University political scientist Martin Kifer said Friday.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from unions, individuals or even shell corporations that don't disclose their donors.
"It's not immediately clear what their motivation is, but similar campaigns have used similar kinds of video for that purpose," Kifer said.
Bishop and his campaign did not respond to messages asking about the video, which is posted on a YouTube channel that bears Bishop's name and photo, and also offers links to two earlier campaign ads. The video shows the Charlotte lawyer smiling while talking with people on sidewalks, smiling while hugging his wife and son and smiling while talking with people around a sandwich-shop table.
The tactic was used extensively by presidential candidates in 2016 and has been used in U.S. Senate campaigns from Kentucky to Kansas, including by both Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and former Sen. Kay Hagan in their 2014 matchup in North Carolina.
Fewer U.S. House campaigns have sought to make soft-focus campaign video available for anyone to download. That's because the strategy carries some risk because an opponent can use the footage in efforts to mock or shame the candidate, Kifer said. A video of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, posted during his 2014 re-election campaign became a jokey internet meme and featured on late-night comedy shows.
"The fact that they use this tactic means that the cost-benefit, they think, is on the side of benefit," said Kifer, who studies campaign communications in congressional elections. "The idea is that they'll benefit more from doing this than it will cost them in terms of the negative publicity or negative ads from the other side."
Bishop beat nine other Republicans to win the GOP primary on May 15. While McCready already has been running for the congressional seat for two years and had almost $1.6 million in cash on hand as of May 2, the election is expected to be close.
The district — which stretches from suburban Charlotte to suburban Fayetteville along the South Carolina border — has been in GOP hands since 1963. President Donald Trump won it by 12 percentage points in 2016.
The video also indicates that the Bishop-McCready contest is likely to attract a considerable amount of focus and spending by outside groups aware that the Sept. 10 election will test the political winds undiluted by other contests, Kifer said.
Though the North Carolina congressional seat won't determine which party controls the House, "special elections are oftentimes looked at as a barometer for how the party is doing," said Charles Prysby, a politics professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "It's not just the individual election, but if McCready wins then Democrats could say that it shows that they're more popular, that Trump is not so popular."
The special election is McCready's second shot to win a U.S. House seat he appeared to lose narrowly to Republican Mark Harris last November. Rather than certify Harris the winner, the state elections board launched an investigation that found the GOP candidate ignored warnings and paid a political operative who collected mail-in ballots, which is illegal in North Carolina. The elections board decided unanimously to hold a new election. Harris opted not to run again.
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