Stony Rushing got a quick surge of recognition soon after Mark Harris endorsed him in the 9th Congressional District special election. Not from the endorsement, but from a costume.
Rushing got national attention from pictures of him dressed as Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard - wearing a white suit, white Stetson and white bow tie.
"We had a costume contest here at the government center with the employees every year," Rushing said in an interview with WFAE last week. "And what's better than for a county commissioner to show up as Boss Hogg? I’ve had local political adversaries that would call me Boss Hogg, so it fit right in. Thank God for that Boss Hogg, I’ve gotten $100,000 on free advertising for that suit."
That photo came with a slogan from a past campaign: Supporting the Second Amendment Like a Boss.
He has another message for his Congressional run:
Mark Harris was unfairly targeted by the State Board of Elections. And there shouldn’t be a new 9th District election.
"I don’t believe they thought what they were doing was illegal," Rushing said. "And by they, I mean the Bladen Improvement Association and McCrae Dowless. I don’t think either side thought that they were doing was illegal."
But in the board of elections hearing, Dowless employees testified that they illegally picked up absentee mail ballots on his orders. One employee, Lisa Britt, said Dowless told her ways to conceal ballot harvesting, such as using the same color pen ink as the voter – when signing her name as a witness.
Rushing says that - before the hearing - he met with Dowless in Bladen County about the allegations.
"And he says he does not touch ballots, that he does not take ballots. And if he did take a ballot, he would probably ask that person to take it back to the person," Rushing said.
He added: "I don’t think Lisa Britt’s testimony was credible at all."
Before the May primary, Rushing had endorsed Robert Pittenger. But he became close to Harris throughout the fall, and Rushing attended all four days of the elections board hearing in Raleigh. He huddled with Harris’ campaign manager and other top Republicans throughout the hearing, closely following the testimony.
The most dramatic moment in the hearing came when Mark Harris’s son John, a federal prosecutor, testified that he repeatedly warned his father not to hire Dowless for his 2018 campaign. John Harris believed Dowless was illegally harvesting mail ballots.
Rushing said he thinks John Harris was confused.
"Well you know, we all sit there and have conversations with our friends about, well this person did this and this person did that, and I actually thought John didn’t know what he was talking about," Rushing said.
[Related: What You Need To Know About The 9th District]
Before the elections board hearing began, the state’s top Republicans said they needed to see evidence that there were enough fraudulent votes to wipe out Harris’ 905-vote lead over Dan McCready.
Those talking points mostly vanished when Mark Harris called for a new election. Rushing has not relented.
He wants Mark Harris supporters to see that he will stick up for Harris – and for Republicans who he believes were unfairly targeted by the elections board. In fact, as soon as Mark Harris and his wife left Raleigh after calling for a new election, Rushing called them.
"But I called Beth and said, 'listen, if something happens to Mark and he can’t run – I’ll run for that seat. This story has to be told. This message has to get out,'" Rushing said.
Republicans believe Rushing is a formidable candidate – in part because he’s from Union County. Union and Mecklenburg have the most voters in the eight-county district, and Union is a Republican stronghold.
Former Union County state Senator Tommy Tucker has said he isn’t running, removing a major hurdle for Rushing. Former state Senator Fern Shubert of Marshville is the only other Union County Republican in the race, so far.
In Mecklenburg, former Mecklenburg Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour has said he is running, though he hasn't filed yet.
Libertarian Jeff Scott of Charlotte has also filed.
Rushing owns the Take Aim Shooting Range in Pageland, S.C. He was a Union County Commissioner from 2002 to 2006, and he was elected again in 2014.
In 2006, he threatened to slap a fellow Union County Commissioner during a meeting.
He said he didn’t do that, and his worst crime is a seat belt ticket.
"I never hit anybody," Rushing said. "I’m one of the most back-grounded candidates you’ll meet, with two federal firearms licenses."
Last month, the newsletter Popular Information wrote about a restraining order he sought in 2016 against a woman whom Rushing said was threatening his daughter. The woman hired an attorney – John Snyder, Union County’s former district attorney.
Snyder, a Republican, deposed Rushing. Snyder said Rushing admitted that he had had an affair with the woman he made the complaint about.
"My perspective is that it shows a lack of judicial restraint when you are out using the levers of court to accomplish personal goals," Snyder said. "And two, this race is about people with conservative family values."
Rushing said he expected that deposition to come up.
"We’re going to have people on the left who push that, and I have people who I have defeated in the past who are pushing that," he said. "I’ve issued the media a challenge on that. Get Dan McCready to talk about the issues, and I’ll go into great detail if anyone wants to learn about my sex life, because it' s going to be a very dull story."
Filing for the new election in the 9th Congressional District began Monday, and runs through Friday.