Mark Harris loses Republican support in North Carolina after ballot scandal

February 26, 2019

Mark Harris has been making phone calls to fellow Republicans in North Carolina to gauge support for another House run and he is getting a clear message: Don’t do it.

Republicans on the national and state level are looking to wipe the slate clean after ballot fraud linked to Mr. Harris’ midterm campaign forced North Carolina officials to call a new election. The do-over also raised the stakes by transforming North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District into the first test of the 2020 cycle.

The State Board of Elections last week ordered the new election after four days of hearings on illegal absentee-ballot harvesting that tainted Nov. 6 results showing Mr. Harris beat Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

Suspicion of wrongdoing has kept the results from being certified and the 9th District seat empty since the new Congress convened Jan. 3. The seat likely will remain empty until nearly the end of the year.

The contest starts over from scratch with a new primary and a new general election. The dates have not been set but the primary likely will not be sooner than May and the general election not before October.

Mr. McCready enters the primary as the presumptive front-runner with enough clout to clear the field on the Democratic side.

He’s already out running against what he calls Mr. Harris’s “culture of corruption.”

“He built a culture of corruption on his campaign that represents the very worst of our politics,” Mr. McCready said Monday on CNN. “In my campaign, I tried the best I could to build a culture of integrity, and integrity is one of our values. What we saw here was a culture of corruption that went all the way to the top and who is suffering the consequences of that are the voters right now who have no representation.”

The 9th District seat has been held by Republicans since the 1960s, but the political environment in the district and the states is changing, as was illustrated by the narrow margin in November.

In the bigger picture, North Carolina has become enough of a presidential battleground for Charlotte to be chosen as the site of the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Paul Shumaker, a Republican political consultant in North Carolina, said he’s bracing for the race to become a referendum on President Trump.

“Whether Republicans want it that way or not, that’s how it is going to play out,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here. I’ve had a lot of wannabe candidates call and talk to me. I can tell you, very few of them realize this is not a race for Congress, this is a national election.”

National GOP officials view the 9th District as the test ground for running against Democrats’ plans for a Green New Deal, third-trimester abortion and Medicaid-for-all.

Mr. Harris would complicate the narrative, say GOP insiders, who also are convinced the primary process will sort it out.

Still, the pressure is on Mr. Harris to stay on the sidelines, including from his wife, Beth, according to sources close to the Harris family.

He is not only marred by the scandal but also faces potential federal charges, his campaign is broke and he is in poor health.

Last week, when he gave up his fight to certify the Nov. 6 results and helped clear the way for the board to call a new election, Mr. Harris revealed that he had been hospitalized for a severe infection and suffered two strokes.

He gave up the fight for his election win after his son, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, testified that he had warned his father that something was fishy about the campaign’s absentee ballot program.

While several prominent North Carolina Republicans are eyeing the race, one of the most prominent GOP prospects pulled himself out of the running Monday.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory said on WBT-AM radio that he didn’t have the “fire in the belly” for a Congressional race.

Former Rep. Robert Pittenger, who lost the 9th District seat when Mr. Harris beat him in the 2018 primary, already had said he wouldn’t run again. If he changes his mind, he’d enter the race as the presumptive front-runner and would be able to argue that he too was a victim of the ballot harvesting scheme.

Other strong Republican candidates would be former Charlotte City Council member Kenny Smith, Union County GOP Chairman Dan Barry, former Mecklenburg County Commission member Matthew Ridenhour and former state Sen. Tommy Tucker, according to a list compiled by the website Longleaf Politics.