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North Carolina lawmakers give 9th District GOP voters option to dump Mark Harris

General Assembly overrides Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of bill requiring primaries in rerun elections

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — North Carolina Republicans will now be able to dump their embattled candidate in the nation’s last undecided U.S. House race, after the General Assembly overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of bill changing state election law.

Under the new law, if state elections officials decide to rerun the 9th District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, both parties will hold primaries, rather than simply redoing the general election.

Mark Harris

That would allow Republicans to replace Harris, whose campaign has become embroiled in an investigation into irregularities in absentee voting in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the edge of the district.

Had the law not been changed, Republicans would have been stuck with Harris as their nominee, raising concerns about losing the seat to McCready in the wake of the investigation.

The controversy over the 9th District race now turns to Washington, where the incoming Democratic majority is expected to refuse to seat Harris pending the outcome of the investigation.

The State Board of Elections. has scheduled a January 11 hearing on the results of the investigation and will then decide whether to order a new election in the 9th District race.

Republicans voted to override Cooper’s veto on December 27, just four days left before they were set to lose their legislative super-majority that has allowed them to override Cooper repeatedly over the last two years.

Cooper’s objection to the law was not over the new primary requirement but a different provision that shielded campaign finance complaints against elected officials from public disclosure.

Republicans hold a two-thirds majority in both houses of the General Assembly, and they have overridden more than 20 of Cooper’s vetoes since he took office in 2017. However, because of Democratic gains in November, the GOP super-majority will go away in January, although Republicans will still control both houses.

The state elections board refused to certify Harris’s unofficial 905-vote lead over McCready after reports surfaced that a political operative working for Harris’s campaign, McRae Dowless, had hired people to collect absentee ballots in Bladen County, a practice that is illegal in North Carolina.

Bladen County also had an unusually high number of absentee ballot requests, and Harris carried the absentee vote by 24 percentage points, a much higher percentage than elsewhere in the district, which stretches across eight counties from suburban Charlotte toward Fayetteville.

Harris has said that he personally made the decision to hire Dowless, but he said he did not know Dowless was doing anything illegal.

Dowless has not spoken publicly about the allegations but has denied any wrongdoing to local media.

McCready, who conceded to Harris on election night, has withdrawn his concession and is now raising money for a rematch.

Also possibly waiting in the wings for Harris in Republican primary is the man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated by just 828 votes in the May primary after taking 96 percent of the absentee vote in Bladen — results that have come under renewed scrutiny since the state board’s refusal to certify the general election results.

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, is making his third bid for political office, after losing a U.S. Senate race in 2014 and the 9th District race in 2016.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, is making his political debut.

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North Carolina lawmakers allow GOP to ditch Mark Harris if disputed U.S. House race is rerun

Harris confirms he hired political operative at center of absentee ballot investigation but says he was unaware of illegal activity

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature has voted to require party primaries if state elections officials order a rerun of the disputed 9th District U.S. House race — a move that would allow the GOP to ditch Mark Harris, their current nominee who is at the center of an absentee voting scandal.

Mark Harris

In another development, Harris — in his first interview since the scandal broke — told Charlotte TV station WTVB that he personally made the decision to hire McRae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative at the center of an investigation by the State Board of Elections. But he said he did not know Dowless was doing anything illegal.

The state board, which has refused to certify Harris’s unofficial 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready, will hold an evidentiary hearing on the election dispute on January 11, which means that Harris is unlikely to be seated when the new Congress convenes on January 3.

Harris told WBTV that he decided to hire Dowless after narrowly losing a Republican primary for the 9th District seat in 2016, in which an opponent who hired Dowless had a strong performance among absentee voters in Bladen, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district.

“I remember looking at that and going, ‘Wow, that’s unusual,'” Harris said.

Harris said the services Dowless offered included canvassing people to fill out absentee ballot requests and then helping them cast and mail in their ballots — not collecting and returning ballots for them, which is illegal in North Carolina.

“I remember (Dowless) saying specifically that they were not to take a ballot. They were not to touch a ballot,” Harris said, noting that Dowless had been “vouched for by a number of other leaders down there.”

“I had no reason to think that what he was doing was illegal,” Harris said.

The state board refused to certify the election after evidence surfaced that Dowless and workers that he hired had collected ballots during the November vote. Bladen County also had an unusually high number of absentee ballot requests, and Harris carried the absentee vote by 24 percentage points.

Dowless has not spoken publicly about the allegations but has denied any wrongdoing to local media.

Harris said the board’s refusal to certify the election was “frustrating” plans to set up his congressional offices and get committee assignments.

“It’s been very frustrating because I’ve been elected to serve the 9th District, and I don’t feel like the 9th District is getting served,” he said.

In his interview, Harris did not directly criticize GOP legislative leaders for moving to force a new primary. But he did say, “I certainly don’t feel the circling of the wagons around Harris the way I see the Democrats circling the wagons around McCready.”

The bill passed December 13 by the legislature would require Democratic and Republican primaries if a rerun of the 9th District election is ordered. Had the law not been changed, Republicans would have been stuck with Harris as their nominee, raising concerns about losing the seat to McCready in the wake of the investigation.

McCready, who conceded to Harris on election night, has withdrawn his concession and is now raising money for a rematch.

Also possibly waiting in the wings for Harris in Republican primary is the man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated by just 828 votes in the May primary after taking 96 percent of the absentee vote in Bladen — results that have come under renewed scrutiny since the state board’s refusal to certify the general election results.

The bill mandating a primary — contained in a larger package of election reforms passed during a lame duck legislative session — is awaiting Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s signature. If Cooper vetoes the bill, Republicans would have the votes to override him.

Because of Democratic gains in November, Republicans will only hold veto-proof majorities until January, when the new legislature takes office.

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, is making his third bid for political office, after losing a U.S. Senate race in 2014 and the 9th District race in 2016.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, is making his political debut.

The 9th District takes in eight counties stretching from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayetteville.

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Republican Mark Harris will support new vote in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. District if fraud affected outcome

Harris, who has a 905-vote lead in unofficial results, insists he was “absolutely unaware” of wrongdoing

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. House District, said he will support a new election if elections officials find proof that voter fraud affected the outcome of the November 6 vote.

Congressional candidate Mark Harris, R-North Carolina

In a video released December 7, Harris also said he was “absolutely unaware” of any wrongdoing by his campaign and pledged to cooperate with an investigation by the North Carolina State Board of Elections into allegations of fraud in absentee ballots linked to a subcontractor paid for work by his campaign.

“I’m hopeful that this process will ultimately result in the certification of my election to Congress,” Harris said. “However, if this investigation finds proof of illegal activities on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of this election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to insure all voters have confidence in the results.”

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, holds a 905-vote lead in unofficial results. But the state board refused to certify the results after allegations of fraud in the distribution and collection of absentee ballots in Bladen County, a rural outpost that Harris carried over his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready.

The 9th District includes parts of eight counties stretching from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayettteville.

Congressional candidate Dan McCready, D-North Carolina

McCready, who had conceded to Harris on election night, took to Twitter to withdraw his concession and demand that Harris answer questions about the fraud allegations.

“I didn’t serve overseas in the Marine Corps just to come back home and watch politicians and career criminals attack our democracy,” McCredy said. “I call on Mark Harris to tell us exactly what he knew and when he knew it.”

McCready, 34, served four years as a Marine officer, including service in the Iraq war.

The fraud allegations swirl around Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who the state board has identified as “a person of interest” in its investigation. The board has subpoenaed documents from the Harris campaign and the Red Dome Group, a Charlotte-based political consultancy that helped run Harris’s campaign and has said it hired Dowless as a subcontractor.

Voters in Bladen County have signed affidavits saying that they were approached at their homes by people offering to collect their absentee ballots for them and return them to the county elections office. That practice, known as ballot harvesting, is illegal in North Carolina.

One of those ballot harvesters, Ginger Eason, told WSOC-TV that she was paid by Dowless to collect the ballots. Dowless has kept a low profile since the allegations surfaced but has denied any wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer.

Dowless, who has a previous conviction for insurance fraud, was investigated by the state elections board over voting irregularities in 2016. The board referred its findings to federal and state prosecutors.

In addition to concerns about ballot harvesting, the absentee vote totals in Bladen have also raised questions. More than 1,340 voters in Bladen requested absentee ballots, but only 684 were actually cast. And while McCready beat Harris among absentee voters in the rest of the district, Harris won by a 24-point margin in the absentee vote in Bladen.

In the GOP primary, Harris ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by just 828 votes, a race in which Harris took 437 absentee votes to just 17 for Pittenger in Bladen, a whopping margin of 96 percent.

If the state elections board finds that fraud affected the outcome of the vote, it could order an election rerun between Harris and McCready. Republicans could not replace Harris on the ballot unless he dies or moves out of state.

However, the new Democrat-controlled House in Washington could refused to seat Harris, which would trigger an entirely new election, in which both parties would pick nominees in primaries.

The Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, has indicated that refusing to seat Harris is a possibility if the state board decides not to act.

“This is bigger than that one seat. This is about undermining the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “What was done there was so remarkable, in that that person, those entities, got away with that.”

The state elections board is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and one member without a party affiliation.

The 9th District was one of four GOP-held seats in North Carolina targeted by Democrats in 2018. Republicans won the other three.

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Decision ’18: Fraud allegations swirl around North Carolina 9th District U.S. House race

State elections board refuses to certify Republican Mark Harris’s win, launches investigation

RALEIGH (CFP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections has refused to certify the results of the results in the 9th District U.S. House race and will hold a hearing to hear evidence of “claims of numerous irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities” during the November vote.

Dan McCready

Mark Harris

The decision means that Republican Mark Harris’s apparent 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready will not become official for at least three weeks, as elections officials vet claims of possible fraud in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district that went heavily for Harris.

The Associated Press, which had called the race for Harris, has rescinded its projection. McCready, who had conceded to Harris, said he was “shocked” by the board’s decision.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” McCready said in a Twitter post. “Any effort to rob a person of that right should be met with the full force of justice.”

Harris called on the board to certify the results pending the investigation, saying delaying the certification would be a “disservice” to voters in the district, which stretches across eight counties along the South Carolina border from the suburbs of Charlotte toward Fayetteville.

“I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties,” he said in a statement. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.”

Before voting to delay the certification, the board — which has four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member — met in closed session and did not offer any details about the fraud allegations in a statement issued afterward.

However, the Charlotte Observer reported that the board acted after receiving affidavits from voters in Bladen who said they received absentee ballots they did not request or had people appear at their door to collect their absentee ballots, efforts linked to a contractor working for the Harris campaign.

Under state law, absentee ballots can be mailed or delivered directly to county elections offices before election day. But it is illegal for anyone other than a relative or guardian to deliver a voter’s ballot on their behalf.

Harris carried Bladen County by 1,557 votes, more than his entire districtwide margin of victory. However, his margin among absentee voters — 420 to 258 — is less, indicating that absentee fraud in Bladen alone would be unlikely to overturn the final result.

The Observer reported 7.5 percent of registered voters in Bladen requested an absentee ballot, about twice the rate in the rest of the district.

In the GOP primary, Harris ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by just 828 votes, a race in which Harris took 437 absentee votes to just 17 for Pittenger in Bladen County, a whopping margin of 96 percent.

Asked in an interview with Spectrum News about the possibility of fraud, Pittenger said, “It’s been out there. We were fully aware of it. There’s some pretty unsavory people out, particularly in Bladen County. And I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

Harris, 52, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, has been a long-time activist among religious conservatives. He made an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 2014.

McCready, 34, is a businessman and former Marine Corps captain making his first run for political office.

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Insight: Midterms show why going left in the South leaves Democrats in a hole

Democrats’ short-term problem isn’t rallying their base; it’s getting buried in small towns and rural areas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Heading into the midterm elections, there was a great deal of chatter around the thesis that Democrats had found a new way to win statewide races in the South — by nominating liberals who fashion themselves as “progressives” and could rally base and minority voters.

No more mamby pamby moderates, please. Give Southerners liberalism unvarnished, and they would come.

But, alas for Democrats, this strategy proved rather impotent. Beto O’Rourke won’t be a U.S. senator from Texas. Andrew Gillum won’t be governor of Florida, nor Stacey Abrams governor of Georgia.

As Democrats look ahead to 2020, the results in the South in 2018 illustrate why the strategy of tacking to the left, both regionally and nationally, may play right into the hands of the two men they most love to hate, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In November, Democrats made major pushes in the five largest Southern states — Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia — targeting federal and statewide races. The only place that strategy worked well was in Virginia, already reliably in the Democratic column.

In Florida, with Gillum and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson leading their ticket, Democrats took just two of the nine targeted House seats and lost both a Senate seat and the governor’s race — in fact, every statewide race except for agriculture commissioner.

In Texas, with O’Rourke leading the way by not beating Ted Cruz, Democrats took just two of eight targeted House seats, and all eight GOP incumbents running for re-election statewide won – Governor Greg Abbott by more than 1 million votes.

In Georgia, Abrams’s candidacy helped the suburban doughnut around Atlanta to the Democratic column, costing Republicans one House seat. But she fell short against an opponent, Brian Kemp, who lacked her polish or political skills.

In North Carolina, none of the House seats targeted by Democrats flipped, though they did manage to reduce the GOP’s previously veto-proof majority in the legislature.

The results for Democrats were even more grim in the smaller Southern states. In Arkansas, where as recently as 2010 Democrats held the governorship and every statehouse post, they didn’t come within 20 points in any statewide race and lost every federal race for the third election in a row.

So why is this important in 2020? Because if Democrats can’t win statewide races in the South, they face daunting math in both the Electoral College and the Senate. And the near total failure of out-and-out “progressive” candidates to win in 2018 raises serious questions about the wisdom of nominating them two years from now.

If Trump sweeps the South outside of Virginia, he’s at 167 electoral votes. Add to that the 36 votes of the reliably Republican states in the West and Great Plains, and he’s at 203. And in every presidential election but one since World War II, the same candidate that has carried Florida also carried Ohio, which puts him at 221.

Thus, Trump would need just 49 electoral votes from the remaining states; in 2016, he got 85. To deny him the presidency, a Democrat would have to take away Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, with no room for error.

Now consider how much easier it would be for a Democrat to beat Trump if he or she could pick off some states in the South, as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did on their way to the White House.

And consider how unlikely that will be if the Democratic ticket is headed by Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

The Senate math is even more daunting. Of the 22 Republican-held seats up in 2020, 12 are in the South and six in those reliably Republican areas in the West. Democrats must also defend a seat in Alabama.

Democrats need to flip four seats to get to a majority. So if they are shut out in the South, including Alabama, the best they can hope for is a 50-50 tie, even if they run the table in the four remaining GOP-held states — Arizona, Iowa, Colorado and Maine.

Of course, proponents of the with-progressives-we-can-win-strategy will point to the fact that O’Rourke, Gillum and Abrams came closer to victory than Democrats have in recent elections — and also closer than Phil Bredesen, the Democratic moderate in Tennessee’s Senate race.

That may be true, but it also begs this question: Given the political winds blowing in Democrats’ favor in 2018, might they have won those close races had they nominated candidates more willing to trim their progressive sails?

Long-term demographic trends, particularly more urban and minority voters and a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs of major cities, do threaten Republican hegemony in the South. But 2020 is not the long term.

The biggest short-term problem for Democrats in the South is that they are getting buried in small towns and rural areas outside of major cities with majority white populations, digging a hole so deep that there are not enough urban, suburban and minority voters to get them out of it.

Kemp took at least 70 percent of the vote in half of Georgia’s counties. In the 350 miles of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Gillum won just two counties. And if you drew a line across Texas from El Paso to Austin to Houston, O’Rourke’s only victories north of that line were in Dallas and Fort Worth.

If Democrats can’t fix their problem with rural voters, they are unlikely to win statewide in the South in 2020 — and 2018 shows that throwing self-styled progressives against the Republicans’ big red wall is certainly not the solution.

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RACE CALLED: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith re-elected in Mississippi; REP HOLD

Decision ’18: Democrats’ net gain of 10 Southern U.S. House seats came in the suburbs

Republicans still have 2-to-1 advantage and hold the line in North Carolina, upper South

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — With all races now decided, Democrats have made a net gain of 10 U.S. House seats across the 14 Southern states in the November 6 election.

While that total was an improvement over their results in 2014 and 2016, Democrats flipped only about a third of the seats they targeted, and Republicans will still hold a 2-to-1 advantage in Southern seats when Congress reconvenes in January.

Democratic gains were centered in suburban areas around major cities, including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Richmond, Miami, the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia. They also carried a district that contains metro Oklahoma City and another that includes Charleston and the Low Country of South Carolina.

However, Democrats went 0-for-4 in targeted seats in North Carolina, 2-for-9 in Florida and 2-for-8 in Texas. They also fell short in targeted races in the upper South states of Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, where Republicans continue to hold 12 out of 13 House seats.

Among those losses was in Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath could not pull out a victory despite raising an astounding $7.8 million, more than any other Southern challenger in this election cycle.

McBath

Hurd

Democrats did win five of the six GOP-held Southern seats that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016; the lone exception was in Texas’s 23rd District, in West Texas, where Republican Will Hurd won a narrow victory. Democrat Lucy McBath also ousted Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, where Donald Trump won by just 1.5 points in 2016.

Four Republican House members, with a combined 48 years of service, went down in the Clinton districts, including Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, Barbara Comstock in Virginia, and Carlos Curbelo in Florida. Republicans also lost in Florida’s 27th District in Miami-Dade, which U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had held for 30 years before deciding to retire.

Democrats kept all of the 40 seats they held going into the election. With the 10 Democratic gains, Southern Republicans will hold 102 seats to 50 for Democrats when Congress reconvenes in January.

In the last Congress, just 13 white Democrats who were not Latino or Asian represented Southern districts. That number will go up to 20 in January, as seven white Democrats displaced Republicans.

Two of the seats that flipped to Democrats were won by African-American candidates — McBath in Georgia and Colin Allred in Texas — and one by a Latina, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who defeated Curbelo.

Hurd, who represents a majority Latino district, will be the only African-American Republican in the new House. Three Southern Republicans are Latino — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Bill Flores of Texas, and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, whose mother is Cuban.

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