CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The candidates running for a North Carolina congressional seat left empty after allegations of ballot fraud launched their campaigns on Wednesday deflecting questions about controversial policies and refusing to rule out a bid for higher office in the near future.

The 9th Congressional District race pits state Sen. Dan Bishop, the Republican architect of the state's "bathroom bill," against a Dan McCready, the Democrat who was granted an electoral do-over after evidence of ballot fraud tainted his prior opponent's campaign. With Bishop's resounding primary election Tuesday, he and McCready face off Sept. 10.

In a bit of guerrilla theater, Bishop appeared outside McCready's campaign headquarters with a cardboard cutout of the Democrat. Bishop described McCready as a liberal who has been as mum as the prop when it comes to talking about his views on current issues.

"I think what voters expect and need is contrast and clarity on issues," Bishop said. "So that's exactly what we're going to do is be clear about the issues from my perspective and we invite Dan McCready to be clear about where he stands."

Both candidates dodged questions, however.

At his own news conference minutes after Bishop spoke, McCready refused to pledge not to run for U.S. Senate next year. Bishop said McCready is using the congressional election to angle for a 2020 shot against Republican Senate incumbent Thom Tillis.

Bishop, meanwhile, deflected questions about his sponsorship of the headline-grabbing "bathroom bill," which cost the state billions in projected economic activity. The 2016 law known as House Bill 2 voided anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and also directed transgender people to use public bathrooms matching their sex at birth.

"HB2 is an old issue and there's a lot of fantasy about it, including a lot in the media, but I think voters are tired of hearing about it," Bishop said. "We've got a lot of new issues in this campaign we've talk about."

McCready cited a 2017 analysis by The Associated Press estimating that the law cost North Carolina more than $3.76 billion, primarily from businesses that decided to skip intended moves to the state.

"His agenda is nothing but a track record of making things worse for people here in North Carolina," McCready said of Bishop.

Bishop said he agrees with President Donald Trump that the country should build a wall on the Mexican border and that the current high rate of Central American citizens seeking asylum in the United States amounts to an emergency.

McCready responded that he supported comprehensive immigration reform, one version of which passed the U.S. Senate in 2013 but died in the House as Republican hard-liners opposed legal status for immigrants living in the country illegally.

"It's absolutely important that we secure the border," McCready said. "It's also important that we uphold American values at the border."

McCready said his experience as a Marine Corps officer in Iraq taught him how to work across political, racial and class lines to complete a mission — an apparent attempt to portray himself as a political moderate eager to find common ground with Republicans.

"We were all on the same team," McCready said. "That's what I think this country is all about and that's what I think we're missing right now in Washington."

The four-month special election contest is expected to serve as a measure of national political currents and an open vault for donors.

McCready ran a solar-energy financing fund before starting his run for Congress two years ago. He's built up his name recognition over the extended campaign and had almost $1.6 million in cash on hand as of May 2, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

But the Democrat will be swimming upstream in a congressional district that has been in GOP hands since 1963 and which Trump won by 12 percentage points in 2016. The 9th Congressional District stretches from suburban Charlotte to suburban Fayetteville along the South Carolina border.