As Democrats nationally debate whether to make the 2020 election about Trump and racism or health care and kitchen table issues, the special election in NC-09 might offer them guidance or at least insight. Republican Senator state Dan Bishop is wrapping himself around the president in a district that went heavily for Trump in 2016. Dan McCready, the Iraq veteran and entrepreneur who came within 1,000 votes of winning in the tainted 2018 election, is talking about health care and domestic issues. If McCready wins, or even loses by a narrow margin, he could provide a path for Democrats in the Trump-won districts they need to hold to keep their majority in the House.

In 2018, Democrats won in a wave election that downplayed Trump and focused on health care. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her supporters want to run that play again in 2020. Trump, though, has doubled down on his divisive racial rhetoric and has stuck to his harsh immigration tactics despite negative stories of children in cages and brutal conditions in detention centers. The left flank of the party believes Democrats should focus on these graphic and disturbing developments.

Instead of harping on Trump, McCready is setting up Bishop for a battle over health care. As the Mueller testimony was grabbing attention on social media and cable news, McCready announced a seven-point health care reform plan that builds on Obamacare. At the same time, he blasted Bishop for opposing a bill that would let pharmacists help customers find cheaper alternatives to medicines. 

McCready is making a contrast that could put Bishop on the defensive. McCready says he would push the state to expand Medicaid just as a study came out saying that states that have expanded Medicaid have seen lower mortality rates. Bishop staunchly opposes expansion in a district that would benefit greatly. 

Bishop has largely stuck to GOP talking points on health care. Like his fellow Republicans in Washington, he would vote to repeal Obamacare, a move that would strip health care from people with pre-existing conditions and young people on their parents’ insurance plans. He claims to want more of a free market-based approach to health care but after a decade of criticizing Obamacare, the GOP has yet to explain what that would look like. 

In the senate, Bishop sponsored the Small Business Health Care Act, a bill that epitomizes political doublespeak. The bill say it keeps the ban on pre-existing conditions, but then goes on to say that insurance companies don’t have to cover the treatment of those conditions. In other words, you might not be denied insurance because of your heart disease, but the insurance company doesn’t have to cover the medicine to treat it. 

In a district where Trump is likely still popular, McCready is trying to focus on issues pertinent to voters’ daily lives, not on the president. His campaign assumes that with Trump’s high profile, voters’ reaction to him is baked in. They’re not focused on the voters who love the president or hate the president. They’re talking to the voters who are just tired of him and the constant political drama. 

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