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Republican Mark Harris drops out of rerun for North Carolina 9th District U.S. House seat

Harris cites ill health for bowing out of new vote triggered by voter fraud allegations against his campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Back in November, Mark Harris was poised to become North Carolina’s newest U.S. House member, after appearing to win by a razor-thin margin of just 905 votes.

But after being battered by charges that an operative working for his campaign engaged in absentee ballot fraud, Harris has now brought his once-promising quest for Congress to an end.

Mark Harris

Harris announced that he will not run in a new election in the 9th District ordered by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which will allow Republicans to pick a new nominee to take on Democrat Dan McCready.

Meanwhile, the Harris operative at the center of the fraud allegations, Leslie McCrae Dowless, was indicted by a grand jury in Raleigh on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Four of his associates were also indicted.

Harris cited ill health, including surgery scheduled for March, for the his decision to drop out of the campaign.

“While few things in my life have brought me more joy than getting to meet and know the people of this incredible part of North Carolina … I owe it to (my wife) Beth, my children and my six grandchildren to make the wisest decision for my health,” he said in a statement released February 26.

“I also owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign,” he said.

During a hearing by the state elections board into allegations of absentee ballot fraud, Harris, 52, had revealed that he had suffered two strokes in January while fighting an infection.

Harris endorsed Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing in the Republican primary, which, with Harris out, is likely to draw a large field of candidates.

The district runs from the suburbs of Charlotte east along the South Carolina border toward Fayetteville.

Governor Roy Cooper has yet to set a date for primaries and the special election. In the meantime, the seat remains vacant.

In November, Harris, a Baptist pastor and longtime Christian conservative activist, appeared to have defeated McCready in unofficial returns, finally winning on his third try for elective office.

But the state board refused to certify the results after allegations surfaced that Dowless orchestrated an effort to illegally collect absentee ballots in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district.

Dowless has denied wrongdoing.

Harris’s decision not to run came just five days after the board ordered a new election in the district, after hearing four days of testimony about Dowless’s activities in Bladen County.

The most dramatic moment of the hearing came when Harris’s son, John, a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, testified that he had warned his father against using Dowless as an operative in the campaign because he was a “shady character.”

Harris wept as he listened to his son’s testimony, which contradicted his previous assertions that the allegations of illegal activity by Dowless came as a surprise.

In December, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature changed state law to require a full primary election in the event the 9th District race was rerun, which gave the GOP the option of ditching Harris and nominating another candidate to face McCready.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and businessman, is not expected to face any challengers on the Democratic side. He has raised more than $500,000 since November in preparation for a new election.

If McCready wins, the 9th District will be the only North Carolina seat to shift from Republican to Democrat and would be the 11th Southern seat to shift in the 2018 cycle.

Republicans hold a 101-to-50 advantage in House seats across the 14 Southern states.

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