The residents of North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District have gone more than four months without representation in the U.S. House after the North Carolina State Board of Elections declined to certify the 2018 election because of allegations of election fraud. On Tuesday, the district, which stretches from Fayetteville to the eastern Charlotte suburbs, will take its first step toward filling that empty seat when it goes to the polls for the primaries.
After hearing evidence that a campaign consultant for 2018 Republican candidate Mark Harris oversaw an effort to cast absentee ballots illegally, the board called a do-over election. Harris decided not to run again, but the 2018 Democratic candidate, Dan McCready, who lost the initial election by just 905 votes, stayed in the race. The Marine veteran is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and has already raised more than $2 million. He should be a formidable opponent for the eventual GOP nominee in the general election.
Ten candidates are vying to be that nominee, four of whom look like serious contenders.
First up is state Sen. Dan Bishop. According to a Public Policy Polling survey of likely Republican voters from late April, Bishop was in the lead with 31 percent, which was 14 points ahead of the second-place candidate (21 percent of voters were still undecided). That would be enough for Bishop to advance straight to the general election without a Sept. 10 runoff. (Under North Carolina law, if no candidate receives at least 30 percent of the vote, the second-place finisher is entitled to force a primary runoff.) Bishop also leads all Republican candidates in fundraising, with more than $500,000 raised as of April 24, although half of that he loaned to his campaign.
Bishop is probably best known as a sponsor of North Carolina’s HB 2, aka the “bathroom bill,” which required people to use public bathroom facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate. (It became law in 2016 but has since been mostly repealed.) Bishop’s support of the law may endear him to social conservatives in the primary, but the bill sparked a national outcry, drew protests in Raleigh and was unpopular with North Carolinians overall, so it may be a liability in the general election (should Bishop make it there).
Finishing second in the PPP poll with 17 percent was Stony Rushing, one of five Union County commissioners. Rushing is certainly running a headline-worthy campaign, testing the adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”: He received an endorsement from Harris and has embraced comparisons to Boss Hogg, the inept and power-hungry county commissioner from “The Dukes of Hazzard.” But Rushing also won the most votes of any Union County commissioner candidate on the ballot last year (voters could pick three out of four names), demonstrating strength in a county that accounted for 39 percent of the vote in last year’s 9th District Republican primary.
Rushing has said that he will forgo a runoff if he finishes second to Bishop and neither earns 30 percent of the vote, so don’t expect a Bishop-Rushing runoff (unless, of course, Bishop finishes second to Rushing or Rushing has a change of heart).
A third candidate, former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, has the endorsement of the 9th District’s previous representative, Robert Pittenger (although Pittenger lost to Harris in the 9th District’s last GOP primary). However, Mecklenburg County cast fewer votes in the 9th District’s 2018 Republian primary than Union County did, and Ridenhour lost his 2018 reelection bid. He finished third in PPP’s 9th District poll with 9 percent.
The final notable candidate is Leigh Brown, who has raised the most of any Republican candidate in individual contributions (more than $243,000). But perhaps more importantly, she has been the beneficiary of $1.3 million in spending by the political committee of the National Association of Realtors. (Brown was the PAC’s fundraising chair until stepping down to run for Congress.) However, as of late April at least, it doesn’t seem to have helped her in the polls. She ranked fourth in the PPP poll with 6 percent. However, the Club for Growth, a conservative PAC that has endorsed Bishop, seems to view her as Bishop’s second-closest rival, after Rushing — as of May 9, it had reported spending nearly $79,000 against Rushing and almost $60,000 against Brown.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination is in for a competitive general election. Although the North Carolina 9th District is typically Republican-leaning, it was one of the closest races in the country last year, and the accusations of election fraud may have only made things worse for the GOP. Election handicappers rate the race a toss-up.
From ABC News: