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Mark Harris not running in new 9th District election

Posted February 26, 2019 2:49 p.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2019 7:11 p.m. EST

— Citing ill health, Republican Mark Harris said Tuesday that he won't run in a new election for the 9th Congressional District seat.

Harris was hospitalized in January with an infection, and he also suffered two small strokes. In a letter to supporters Tuesday posted on Facebook, he said he now needs a surgery, which has been scheduled for late March.

"Given my health situation, the need to regain full strength, and the timing of this surgery the last week of March, I have decided not to file in the new election for Congressional District 9," he said in the letter.

Harris made no mention in the letter of last week's State Board of Elections hearing in which the new election was ordered.

The elections board determined that McCrae Dowless, an operative hired by Harris to boost his absentee vote totals in Bladen and Robeson counties, ran an operation that illegally collected absentee ballots from voters.

Harris testified during the hearing that Dowless had repeatedly told him the program was legal and that none of his workers touched anyone's ballot. But Harris' son also testified during the hearing that he had warned his father not to employ Dowless because his work in other campaigns looked suspicious.

"It has become clear to me that the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted," Harris said in a statement to the elections board.

In Tuesday's letter, Harris said he and his family struggled with the decision of how to move forward before they agreed to put his health first.

"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."

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said Harris "looked like death warmed over" when he visited him in the hospital, so he wasn't surprised by Tuesday's move, given the "grueling schedule" involved in a new election.

Woodhouse predicted a dozen Republican candidates would run for the seat, but some prominent names have already pulled their names from consideration.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday that he wasn't interested, and former Congressman Robert Pittenger said last week that he has moved on to other activities. State Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, said Tuesday he considered entering the race but had decided against it.

Harris threw his support behind Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing for the 9th District seat. Rushing hasn't yet declared himself a candidate.

"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. I hope that those who have stood with me will strongly consider getting behind Stony Rushing," he said.

Democrat Dan McCready, whom Harris appeared to have defeated in the November election before the fraud allegations surfaced, restarted his campaign Friday. It remains to be seen whether he will face any Democratic opposition.

Woodhouse said he doesn't think the fraud allegations will hurt the GOP. In fact, he said many voters will be angry with McCready for contesting the first election.

"We will certainly be taking the Democrats to account for their efforts to disenfranchise a lot of people," he said, arguing that the state elections board essentially ignored tens of thousands of valid votes in the 9th District while looking at far fewer suspect ones.

"They should have [challenged the results] in a timely manner under the traditional rules," he said. "There ought to have been a full determination of whether this changed the outcome, and there wasn't."

The dates for the primaries and the new election in the 9th District haven't been set yet.