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Republican won't run in new N.C. congressional race

By Danielle Haynes
Republican won't run in new N.C. congressional race
Mark Harris said he must have surgery in late March after a "serious" medical event in January. File Photo courtesy of the Mark Harris campaign

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Republican Mark Harris announced Tuesday he will not take part in North Carolina's new election for the 9th Congressional District citing health concerns.

Harris had 905 more votes than his Democratic competitor, Dan McCready, in the 2018 midterm election for the seat. But the North Carolina State Board of Elections last week ordered a new election to be held after officials uncovered an illegal absentee ballot scheme that benefitted Harris.

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Harris said an "extremely serious condition" he faced in mid-January led him to need surgery in the last week of March. For that reason, he's not filing to run in the new congressional election.

"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, and while I have been overwhelmed by the honor of their support for me as the Congressman-elect of NC-9, I owe it to Beth, my children and my six grandchildren to make the wisest decision for my health," he said. "I also owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign. It is my hope that in the upcoming primary, a solid conservative leader will emerge to articulate the critical issues that face our nation."

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Harris endorsed fellow Republican Stony Rushing, a Union County commissioner, to run in the race.

Earlier this month, Harris voiced his support for a new election after details of the ballot scheme came to light.

"I believe a new election should be called," he said. "It's become clear to me the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted."

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His son, John Harris, told the elections board he'd warned his father about the illegal tactics of a political operative, leaving the elder Harris in tears. "I love my dad and I love my mom," John Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, said. "I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle, OK? I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them," John Harris said.

John Harris' testimony was a surprise, as his parents didn't know he would appear. Mark Harris repeatedly denied seeing any red flags about the efforts for his benefit by political operative McCrae Dowless

John Harris said he first raised concerns during a 2016 primary race in which Mark Harris finished second and the third-place finisher received 221 of 226 mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen County. When Mark Harris met with Dowless about running an absentee ballot program in Bladen and Robeson counties, John Harris said he warned his parents of potential legal ramifications. He said his father assured him Dowless operated legally.

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But John Harris provided email exchanges with his father about Dowless' practices in the 2016 race for another candidate -- messages that acknowledged it's a felony to mail someone else's ballot, even if they're placed in the voters' own mailboxes. He said his father assured him the work being done was legal.

"Do I agree with their ultimate assessment? No, I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right," John Harris said.

Several witnesses have testified that Dowless paid them to collect ballots and filled out some himself, which would be a felony.

Andy Yates, chief consultant for the Harris campaign, said Dowless was paid more than $131,000 during the campaign to collect mail-in absentee ballot requests, for general expenses and as a monthly fee.

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