Damaged GOP faces tough path in North Carolina election do-over

Republicans are gearing up for an uncertain and potentially crowded primary in the new election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, while Democrat Dan McCready is already coalescing support from his party for the re-vote.

As McCready held an event relaunching his campaign Friday and landed a valuable endorsement from the Daily Kos, a small-dollar fundraising powerhouse on the left, a pack of Republicans were considering their own runs, with no clear favorite among them. It’s unclear if Mark Harris — the 2018 candidate whose campaign was the subject of fraud allegations that tainted the midterm election and forced a new race — will run again, after recently suffering from health problems.

What’s more, Republicans on the ground think that Harris would now be a weak general election contender in the GOP-leaning district, after North Carolina’s board of elections voted unanimously to call a new campaign. Harris’ son delivered stunning testimony before the board this week, saying he warned his father against hiring the political operative who allegedly collected and marked voters’ absentee ballots in 2018. And Harris, a former preacher, could have trouble raising new money into his broke campaign as a result.

“What we’re going to get is a primary with a lot of candidates,” said Carter Wrenn, a North Carolina Republican strategist. “I wouldn’t presume to tell Harris what to do, but he took a hard hit at the end of the hearings, he’s got some bruises.”

“His whole campaign becomes more problematic,” Wrenn added.

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But if Harris does decide to run again, his name recognition — and the belief of some Republican voters that he “got a raw deal” — could make him difficult to beat in a GOP primary, said Patrick Sebastian, a Republican strategist and nephew of former Gov. Pat McCrory. That could be a problem for Republicans in the general election, in a district President Donald Trump carried in 2016, but McCready — a veteran making his first run for office — made competitive in 2018.

It would take someone with “a heck of a lot of money to defeat [Harris] in the primary,” Sebastian said.

North Carolina’s board of elections will vote soon to set dates for the new election. Other potential GOP candidates include Matthew Ridenhour, former Mecklenburg County commissioner, and Kenny Smith, a former Charlotte city council member who ran for the mayor of Charlotte and lost. Additionally, former state Rep. Andy Dulin told WSOCTV he would not rule out a run. The state GOP won’t weigh in on the primary but said it will continue to work with legislators and investigators to improve the electoral system.

Though McCrory previously said he’s not interested in running for the congressional seat, local Republicans are pushing him to jump into the primary, according to a person familiar with those discussions. McCrory has also received a few calls from Republicans in Washington, D.C.

McCrory wouldn’t comment on the new election, instead expressing frustration that the election board didn’t continue hearing testimony on Thursday. “Why are they stopping the investigation — both Republicans and Democrats,” McCrory said.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told a local CBS affiliate that “a criminal prosecution should be anticipated” on the allegations of election fraud against Dowless. Freeman added that her office is not only trying to get to the bottom of any illegal activity that took place but “who might have been funding that and what did they know?”

Mark Harris. | AP Photo

ELECTIONS

Mark Harris’ son warned him about operative in North Carolina scandal

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As Republicans wait to figure out who might run in the 9th District, McCready rallied supporters Friday.

“I am running in the special election for North Carolina’s 9th district,” McCready said at an event. “We are in this fight and we are going to win this fight. … This is about what does it mean to live in a democracy.”

McCready starts the new election with a major financial head start. The Democrat raised about $500,000 in December and ended 2018 with approximately $337,000 in his campaign account. Harris finished 2018 with just $19,131 on hand. Meanwhile, McCready sent campaign emails and launched a barrage of digital fundraising ads Thursday and Friday after the new election was called.

He also has support from Democratic heavy-hitters from the Daily Kos to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is ready to back up McCready in the new race.

“Dan McCready is a United States Marine Corps veteran who led a platoon in Iraq, as well as a business leader who has created jobs in his community in North Carolina,” said Cole Leiter, DCCC spokesperson. “While Washington Republicans have spent over $2 million propping up a candidate who stole North Carolinians’ votes and threatened the integrity of our election process, we’re proud to stand with Dan and look forward to him bringing his leadership to Congress.”

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The DCCC plans to hammer the North Carolina GOP and national Republicans over the election fraud allegations — particularly what Harris knew and when. After taking a break in the middle of Thursday’s election board hearing to huddle with his lawyers, Harris returned to the stand to admit that he’d been mistaken in early testimony about whether he expected email exchanges with one of his sons to be made public.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which does not get involved in open GOP primaries, has not said what it will do in the new election. NRCC chair Tom Emmer issued a statement against ballot harvesting — the process of collecting others’ absentee ballots to turn them in, which is illegal in North Carolina but legal in other states.

“Voter fraud is never acceptable and neither is ballot harvesting. We call on Democrats to join Republicans in rejecting the practice of ballot harvesting in every congressional district in the country,” Emmer said in the statement.

After remaining quiet about the scandal, Trump weighed in Friday.

“Any form of election fraud, I condemn,” Trump told reporters, repeating unverified claims of improper voting in Texas and California.

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