Politics & Government

On eve of filing, GOP official warns 9th District hopefuls against divisive primary

Mark Harris calls for new election in 9th district

Mark Harris called for a new election in the disputed 9th District on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2019. He said he suffered two strokes in January and is “struggling” to get through the hearing, now in its fourth day.
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Mark Harris called for a new election in the disputed 9th District on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2019. He said he suffered two strokes in January and is “struggling” to get through the hearing, now in its fourth day.

Faced with a potentially large field of candidates for North Carolina’s new 9th Congressional District election, one party official Saturday urged Republicans to avoid a “family feud” with a divisive primary.

Outgoing Union County GOP Chairman Dan Barry made the plea at a county convention that drew a handful of candidates for the special congressional election. The filing period to run for the seat starts Monday and ends Friday.

The convention drew four announced candidates, including Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing and former Mecklenburg Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour and newcomers Stevie Rivenbark of Fayetteville and Nadia Cora Robinson of Charlotte. Two lawmakers who have said they’re considering the race, state Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte and state Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe, also attended.

The field could grow. Barry said national party officials have said 15 Republicans have expressed interest in the race. In North Carolina’s 3rd District, 17 Republicans have filed for the seat vacated by the February death of GOP U.S. Rep. Walter Jones Jr.

In the 9th District, primaries are scheduled for May 14, with a general election — or runoff — on Sept. 10. If there is a runoff — that is, if no candidate gets at least 30 percent of the vote — the general election would be Nov. 5.

Barry said that’s a big reason to avoid a runoff.

“We must coalesce around a single candidate and avoid a runoff at all costs,” he told convention delegates.

If the general election doesn’t take place until November, it would coincide with Charlotte’s city elections, which are expected to bring out more Democratic voters. That could help the presumed Democratic congressional nominee, Dan McCready.

McCready trailed Republican Mark Harris on Election Day by 905 votes but, with evidence suggesting widespread election fraud in the eastern part of the district, state elections officials voted to hold a new election.

After Harris announced he would not run, other candidates have jumped in. Among them:

Robinson, a piano teacher who lives in Ballantyne, said as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, she could broaden the party’s appeal, “breaking the stereotypes of who we are as Republicans.”

Rivenbark, a single mother, said it’s time to elect more Republican women to Congress. “It’s time to diversify our party,” she told delegates.

Rushing said he has worked or lived in virtually every county in the congressional district. He maintained that the 2018 election was “rigged” and that Harris got a raw deal.

Ridenhour cast himself as somebody who can work with Democrats to get things done. A former Marine, he said he’d be the strongest to take on McCready, himself a former Marine. “It takes a Marine to beat a Marine,” he said.

Barry urged those candidates and others to come together after the primary, regardless of the outcome.

“I challenge you primary contestants, don’t spend a lot of time fighting each other,” he said. “We won’t have a lot of time after May 14 to heal the wounds.”

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Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.
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