Politics & Government

9th District candidates talk about the Mueller Report, Realtors’ money and HB2

One candidate defended her million-dollar support from an outside interest group.

Another stood up for his sponsorship of House Bill 2, which critics deride as the “bathroom bill.”

And another explained his support of the Republican whose campaign was tarnished by allegations of election fraud.

A forum sponsored by Mecklenburg County’s Young Republicans on Tuesday night drew five of the 10 Republicans running in the 9th District. Another, Matthew Ridenhour, didn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict. Four others ,who organizers said haven’t actively campaigned, were not invited.

Early voting starts Wednesday in the district that stretches from Charlotte to Bladen County.

The candidates agreed on most issues, including the Mueller Report about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“This witch hunt is treason,” said Stevie Rivenbark of Fayetteville.

Former lawmaker Fern Shubert of Marshville called it “a very expensive joke.”

Realtor Leigh Brown of Cabarrus County said the report “shows how tough” President Donald Trump is.

And state Sen. Dan Bishop said the “left is now totally consumed” with Trump’s possible obstruction of justice.

“If he was obstructing, he was obstructing a coup,” Bishop said.

But then the questioning turned to matters specific to each candidate.

Bishop was asked whether his 2016 sponsorship of HB2 might be a vulnerability in a general election campaign against Democrat Dan McCready.

The bill, which required transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate, came in response to what Bishop called “an extraordinary overreach by local government.” The bill followed the Charlotte City Council’s passage of a broad anti-discrimination bill. HB2 was blamed for the loss of sporting events and economic investment.

Rivenbark asked Bishop how he would avoid “re-litigating” the measure in a campaign against McCready. Bishop responded by saying he beat two opponents in 2018 who tried to make it an issue.

“It’s a done deal,” he said. “It’s an exhausted issue. Voters aren’t nearly as interested as the media and the left.”

Bishop himself went after Brown’s support from the National Realtor’s Association political action committee. It’s spending $1.3 million on behalf of Brown, a former fundraising chair for the PAC.

“If your entire campaign is built on one (Washington) DC super PAC, that is a grave concern,” he said, turning to Brown.

Brown said she had nothing to do with the group’s decision to back her campaign and stepped down as its fundraising chair before filing “because I’m a woman of integrity.”

“Realtors aren’t a special interest group,” she said. “It’s a public interest group.”

Stony Rushing, a Union County commissioner, was asked how he would explain his endorsement by Mark Harris, the 2018 GOP candidate. State election officials called for a new election in February after hearing evidence of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties orchestrated by an operative for the Harris campaign.

Harris testified that he knew nothing about the alleged fraud by McCrae Dowless.

Rushing said he stood by Harris in the campaign and is standing with him now. He called the bipartisan State Board of Elections, which called for the new vote, “the crookedest bunch of people you’re ever going to meet.”

The forum came a day after Bishop won the endorsement of the conservative Club for Growth, a group that usually follows an endorsement with money. Club for Growth Action already has spent nearly $18,000 on mailers attacking Rushing’s record on taxes as a Union County commissioner.

Earlier in the day, Rushing replied to the attacks with a new video that shows him standing in a swamp with a snake wrapped around his neck and a rifle in hand. He’s criticized the anti-tax group for spending $7 million against Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary.

“The same establishment insiders that fought against President Trump want to keep me out of Washington too,” Rushing says in the ad. “They’re right to be afraid.”

If no one in the May 14 primary gets at least 30 percent of the vote, there will be a Sept. 10 runoff followed by a Nov. 5 general election. If no runoff is necessary, the general election will be Sept. 10.