‘I owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Baptist pastor Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s disputed 9th Congressional District, does not plan to run in the election do-over that the state Board of Elections unanimously voted for last week.
The board’s dramatic four-day hearing, following months of investigation and legal wrangling, came to a surprise conclusion when Harris, whose own son had been compelled to testify against him, called for a new election in the face of evidence that absentee ballot harvesting had tainted the race.
Harris also revealed that he had suffered two strokes while in the hospital in January recovering from an infection.
In a message to supporters on Tuesday, Harris said he would be undergoing surgery in late March.
“I owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign,” he said. “It is my hope that in the upcoming primary, a solid conservative leader will emerge to articulate the critical issues that face our nation.”
Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, issued a statement of support shortly after the news broke.
“The most important thing for him to address is his health,” Hayes said. “This has been a grueling process for all involved, and we unequivocally support his call for a new election.”
Harris’s decision all but assures that the soap-opera-like saga will continue with a competitive primary to take on Democrat Dan McCready in the yet-to-be-scheduled election.
“There are numerous quality candidates that are discussing a run and although the Party will not be involved in a primary, we have no doubt that a competitive nominee will emerge,” Hayes said.
Former Rep. Robert Pittenger, the incumbent before Harris unseated him in last year’s Republican primary, had previously announced his intention not to run again, but many awaited word on whether he would stand by that decision in light of the turn of events.
Harris, meanwhile, asked his supporters to rally behind Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing.
“His background and his experience have proven him to stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom,” Harris said.
In December, Republicans in the state legislature successfully overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to amend the state code and require that a primary also be held in any congressional general election ordered by the elections board.
However, in a story filled with twists and turns, political intrigue, and accusations of election theft and impropriety from both sides, the possibility of a McCready challenge to that law may not be off the table yet.
The previous statute required that all candidates listed on the ballot in the original election be included on the new ballot and listed in the same order as before.
Both the state-level Supreme Court and the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals are heavily skewed with liberal judges, meaning a legal dispute would likely need to go to the U.S. Supreme Court before Republicans received a favorable verdict.
By that point, the two-year term would be all but over, leaving McCready—who outpaced Harris considerably in fundraising, courtesy of wealthy out-of-state donors—well positioned for a 2020 challenge.
McCready’s head attorney, Marc Elias, was dubbed Democrats’ “best Election stealing lawyer” by President Donald Trump during the Florida election recounts last November.
As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida – I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
Still, Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba University and expert in state-level politics, expressed his doubt that the McCready team would try to force Harris onto the new ballot.
“It wasn’t clear to me, at least, that the State Board of Elections indicated which elections would be held,” Bitzer told Liberty Headlines, “but I presume they were going on the idea that the new law requires a new primary election.”
Although Bitzer said the timing of the legislation could potentially open a window for more courtroom drama, the deterrents of introducing more uncertainty into the race and leaving the district without representation seem likely to prevail.
“I do think McCready’s campaign is looking at a legal challenge, since the law was passed after the investigation had begun,” Bitzer said. “But I’m not sure if he would lodge a challenge to it.”