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10 Republicans file to run for disputed North Carolina 9th District U.S. House seat

Winner of GOP primary will face Democrat Dan McCready for a seat Democrats hope to flip

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Ten Republicans have filed the paperwork to run for their party’s nomination for the disputed 9th District U.S. House seat in North Carolina, setting up a primary battle to pick an opponent who can stop Democrat Dan McCready from flipping the seat from red to blue.

Dan McCready

By the close of the filing deadline for the special election on March 15, no Democrats filed to run against McCready, who lost the seat by 905 votes in November but is getting another chance after state elections officials ordered a new election amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

The seat has been vacant since January, and residents of the district could be without a representative in Washington until November, if the crowded Republican field requires a primary runoff.

The 10 Republicans running in the May 14 primary include four current or former elected officials: State Senator Dan Bishop from Charlotte; Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing from Wingate; former Mecklenberg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour from Charlotte; and Fern Shubert, a former state legislator from Marshville.

Also running are Stevie Rivenbark Hull, a sales manager from Fayetteville; Kathie Day, a real estate agent from Cornelius; Gary Dunn, a Charlotte businessman; Leigh Thomas Brown, a real estate agent from Harrisburg; Albert Wiley, Jr., a physician and frequent candidate from Salter Path; and Chris Anglin, a Raleigh attorney.

Dan Bishop

Bishop is best known for being a lead sponsor of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” a controversial 2016 law which required transgendered people to use bathrooms that matched their birth identity in public buildings. The legislature repealed the law in 2017 after the state faced a series of boycotts.

Bishop also also drew critical press coverage for his investment in Gab, a social media site popular with white supremacists and anti-Semites. He has said he was not aware that the site promoted hate speech when he made a crowdfunding investment in August 2017, a week after white supremacists ignited a riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rushing, who owns a gun range, is serving his third term as a commissioner in Union County. He has been endorsed by Mark Harris, who was the Republican nominee in November’s disputed vote.

The State Board of Elections refused to certify Harris as the winner amid allegations that an operative hired by his campaign had improperly collected absentee ballots. After the board ordered a new vote, Harris bowed out of a rematch with McCready, citing health concerns.

Ridenhour, who lost his seat on the county commission last year after a single term, is a Marine veteran who has been active in the Tea Party movement in Charlotte.

Shubert served three terms in the House and one in the Senate. She made unsuccessful bids for governor in 2004 and state auditor in 2012.

Hull and Day are both political newcomers who live outside the 9th District, which stretches from Charlotte east along the South Carolina border toward Fayetteville. Federal law does not require candidates for Congress to live in the district they want to represent.

Brown is a Charlotte-area realtor. Dunn ran unsuccessfully for Charlotte mayor in 2017 and for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2012.

Wiley ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the neighboring 10th District in 2016 and 2018. Anglin ran unsuccessfully for the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2018. Neither man lives in the 9th District.

If none of the Republican candidates captures a majority in the May vote, a primary runoff is scheduled for Sept. 10, with a general election on Nov. 5. If a runoff isn’t required, the general election will move up to September, which could give the district representation in Washington sooner.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and businessman who has raised more than $500,000 since November, starts the race with a significant cash advantage over his Republican rivals and won’t need to spend any of it in a primary.

If McCready wins, the 9th District will be the only Republican-held district in North Carolina to flip Democratic in the 2018 election cycle.

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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president

Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.

However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.

The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

All four Southern Democrats in the Senate also voted yes — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Alexander

In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.

“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.

Rubio

Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.

“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.

Wicker

Paul

“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.

Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”

“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.

Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.

“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.

Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.

Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.

“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.

But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.

“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.

Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.

Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.

Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.

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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, ChickenFriedPolitics.com 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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Virginia House Republicans plan hearings on Justin Fairfax sexual assault allegations

Lieutenant governor calls hearings “partisan,” doesn’t say if he’ll participate

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have decided to invite Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and two women who have accused him of sexual assault to air their versions of events in a public hearing.

Delegate Rob Bell, the chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee, announced the planned hearings Friday, in a speech on the House floor.

“This will give all parties a chance to be heard,” he said.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

However, a date for the hearing and details about the format were not announced. And while both women indicated they would participate, Fairfax’s office issued a statement characterizing the hearing as “partisan” and leaving his participation an open question.

“House Republicans want to pursue this historically unprecedented course of action because the accused is a popularly elected Democrat,” said Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke in a statement. “The path to finding truth and justice should be based on due process and the work of law enforcement professionals.”

The legislature’s current session ends on Saturday, although committees can meet between sessions. House Speaker Kirk Cox said the hearing announced by Bell was not an impeachment hearing, leaving it unclear if lawmakers could force Fairfax to testify.

The decision to organize a hearing marks a change in tactics for Republicans, who have been relatively silent over the past two weeks as Democrats have wrestled with how to deal with allegations of rape and sexual assault against a man who had been considered a rising star in their party.

Both the Democratic Party of Virginia and the commonwealth’s Legislative Black Caucus have called on Fairfax to resign, as have many of the party’s 2020 White House contenders.

Vanessa Tyson, a college professor in California, has alleged that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Meredith Watson, who now lives in Maryland, has accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were classmates at Duke University in North Carolina.

Fairfax, 40, a former federal prosecutor elected lieutenant governor in 2017, has denied both allegations and called on the FBI to investigate.

The age of the allegations and the fact that neither alleged assault took place in Virginia have complicated efforts to investigate, leaving it unclear which law enforcement agency might have the authority to do so.

Cox had proposed a special investigative committee, with an equal number of members from both parties and subpoena power, but the plan stalled when Democrats would not agree.

Bell’s committee has 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.

Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, released a statement saying Watson was “gratified” by the decision to schedule a hearing and “looks forward to testifying at this forum.”

Smith also said it was her understanding that the hearing would be televised and that Watson would be able to call witnesses to corroborate her account.

Tyson’s lawyers also indicated she was “prepared to testify,” although she would prefer a bipartisan committee to avoid a “highly charged political environment.”

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North Carolina elections board orders new vote in disputed 9th District U.S. House race

Republican Mark Harris reverses course and calls for new election instead of certifying his unofficial win

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections has ordered a new election for the state’s 9th District U.S. House seat, after hearing four days of testimony about allegations of absentee ballot fraud by a operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris.

The board’s unanimous February 21 decision came shortly after Harris, who had spent the morning answering questions, returned from a lunch break and called for a new election, saying poor health would not allow him to continue testifying.

Republican candidate Mark Harris weeps during his son’s testimony (From WRAL-TV)

“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” he said. “It’s 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.”

However, Harris insisted that “neither I nor any of the leadership in my campaign were aware of or condone the improper activities that have been testified to.”

The board’s decision sets up a possible rematch between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready in the new election to fill the seat, giving Democrats another pickup opportunity.

However, it is not clear if Harris will be a candidate. He told the elections board that he had suffered two strokes while battling an infection in January and said he was not well enough to answer questions, calling into question if he could withstand a contentious campaign in the glare of the national spotlight.

“Though I thought I was ready to undergo the rigors of this hearing and am getting stronger, clearly I am not, and I struggled this morning with both recall and confusion,” he said.

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 gives the GOP the option of ditching Harris and nominating another candidate to face McCready.

McCready took to Twitter to welcom the board’s decision, saying “from the moment the first vote was stolen in North Carolina, from the moment the first voice was silenced by election fraud, the people have deserved justice. Today was a great step forward for democracy in North Carolina.”

McCready has raised more than $500,000 for a rematch in the contested race since December; Harris’s campaign had just $19,000 in cash and $86,000 in unpaid debt at the end of December, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Harris, 52, a longtime Christian conservative activist and former senior pastor at Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, led McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns after November’s vote.

But the state elections board refused to certify the results amid allegations that a contractor hired by the Harris campaign, McCrae Dowless, had illegally collected absentee ballots in Bladen County, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district.

Under state law, voters must mail or deliver completed absentee ballots themselves. The board heard testimony that Dowless and people working for him had collected the ballots and then submitted them. Questions were also raised about improprieties in applications for absentee ballots.

Until reversing course at the hearing, Harris had resisted calls by McCready and Democrats for a new election in the 9th District, which includes the suburbs of Charlotte and rural areas to the east toward Fayetteville.

His lawyers and Republican officials had argued that the results should be certified despite the fraud allegations because the number of absentee ballots in question was not sufficient to change the outcome.

The most dramatic testimony during the four-day hearing came from Harris’s son John, a federal prosecutor. He testified that he had warned his father against using Dowless as an operative in the campaign because he was a “shady character.”

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

No Republican has yet come forward to launch a challenge to Harris. Two possibilities, former Governor Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who was defeated by Harris in the Republican primary in 2018, have both taken themselves out of the running.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and businessman, is not expected to face any challengers on the Democratic side.

If McCready wins the rematch, 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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8 Southerners named to panel to hash out deal on border security

Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.

Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby

The list of Senate conferees includes Richard Shelby of Alabama and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, both Republicans. None of the four Southern Democrats who serve in the Senate were selected.

On the House side, all four of the GOP conferees are from the South — Kay Granger of Texas, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Tom Graves of Georgia, and Steve Palazzo of Mississippi.

Two Southern Democrats are among the six Democrats picked for the panel by House Speaker Nancy PelosiDavid Price of North Carolina and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)

All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.

Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.

Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.

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7 new Southern U.S House Democrats who ousted Republicans support Nancy Pelosi for speaker

Cunningham of South Carolina and Spanberger of Virginia keep vow to oppose Pelosi; North Carolina’s 9th District remains vacant

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020.

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi accepts gavel from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (From Twitter)

Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida all supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote.

Two other freshmen Democrats who had vowed during their campaign that they would not support Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — kept that promise, voting instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois.

And despite signing a letter in November calling for new leadership in the House, Filemon Vela of Texas switched course to vote for Pelosi.

Meanwhile, as the new Congress convened in Washington with 29 new Southern  members, one seat sat empty — the representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where state elections officials have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris’s narrow win over Democrat Dan McCready amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In the vote for speaker, just three Southern Democratic members did not support Pelosi — Cunningham and Spanberger, who voted for Bustos, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who voted present.

Cooper, who has been in Congress since 1983, had been a long-time opponent of Pelosi’s speakership, having voted against her five times previously.

After the November election, a group of 16 Democratic members, including Cooper, Cunningham and Vela, signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus.

Vela changed course after Pelosi agreed to support term limits for the House Democratic leadership, which will limit her speakership to no more than four years.

Pelosi needed a majority of the 430 votes cast for speaker. In the end, she got 220 votes, four more than necessary.

Of the seven Southern Democrats who ousted Republicans and voted for Pelosi, McBath, Horn and Luria represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Allred and Fletcher represent districts he lost by less than 2 points.

Hillary Clinton carried Murcasel-Powell’s district in South Florida by 16 points and Wexton’s district in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. by 10 points.

Three other Southern Democratic newcomers who won open seats in November also supported Pelosi — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, and Donna Shalala of Florida. All three represent districts Clinton carried handily.

Among Southern Republicans, only three did not support their candidate for speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia supported Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, a grouping of the most conservative Republican members.

Walter Jones of North Carolina did not vote. He has been absent from Congress since September because of an undisclosed illness.

Of the 29 new Southern members of the House, 17 are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Republicans hold 101 Southern seats, compared to 50 for Democrats, with North Carolina’s 9th District vacant.

The 9th District seat is likely to remain vacant until after the state elections board completes its investigation into the allegations of absentee ballot irregularities, which has been delayed until February because of a new law revamping the board.

Harris has filed a lawsuit seeking for force certification of the election.

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