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NC Democrats in Congress: No New Primaries For 9th District

Bladen County voters said people supporting Republican Mark Harris pressured them to vote early, and offered to pick up their absentee by mail ballots.
Steve Harrison
North Carolina's three Democratic members of Congress say the state should not hold new primaries for the 9th Congressional District.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly has passed a bill that would require a do-over of the party primaries in the 9th Congressional District if the North Carolina Board of Elections says there should be a new election due to fraud.

That would result in a possible rematch between Republican Mark Harris — who won the primary — against incumbent Robert Pittenger.

But the state’s three Democratic members of Congress say that result should stand, and there should be no second primary. Their view: The Republicans had their chance to question their primary results, and chose not to do so.

In the Republican primary, Harris narrowly defeated Pittenger, in part due to an unusually strong showing in absentee-by-mail ballots from Bladen County. Bladen is the focus of the state board's fraud investigation.

“I think that election has already been certified and it’s my understanding that Rep. Pittenger may have had some concerns and didn’t do anything about it, so we don’t need to be changing the rules at this point,” said Alma Adams, Charlotte's Democratic Congresswoman, in an interview Friday.

“We have the data for this general election. We know that there were some probably, well clearly not probably, there were some things that shouldn’t have been done and they knew of what was going on, so we need to move on at this point so we can get this district covered."

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams said Republicans knew about possible fraud in their 2018 primary, but didn't report it.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t signed the bill that would require a new primary election, but the Republican General Assembly has enough votes – at least through the end of the year – to override his veto. The GOP will no longer have a veto-proof supermajority when the legislature convenes in January.

Democrats say that a new primary would make it easier for the GOP to jettison Harris, whom they see as a damaged candidate.

On Thursday, the Washington Post published a story saying that Harris personally directed his campaign to hire McCrae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative at the heart of the investigation.

The Post said Harris’ interest in Dowless went back to the 2016 Republican primary for the 9th District. In that race, Robert Pittenger, the incumbent, narrowly beat Harris by 134 votes.

But that race wasn’t just between Pittenger and Harris. There was a third Republican running, Todd Johnson, who recently won a state Senate seat representing Union County.

In that 2016 primary, Johnson had hired Dowless to get out the vote. The results in Bladen County – Dowless’s home turf — were stunning, with Johnson winning 221 absentee-by-mail votes out of 226 votes cast.

The Post, citing people who did not wish to be named, said Harris was warned on election night in June 2016 that something improper had likely occurred in Bladen County to produce such unusual absentee mail results.

Two years later, Harris – with Dowless’s backing — won an overwhelming number of absentee-by-mail votes in Bladen County in both the 2018 Republican primary and general election.

Johnson is in Raleigh for an orientation for new state legislators and didn’t return several messages from WFAE. Dowless did not work for his 2018 state legislative campaign.

The board of elections has said it will hold a public hearing on Jan. 11.