In the 9th District, a new primary might draw a crowded field for disputed seat

Weeks after winning the now-disputed 9th District congressional race, Charlotte Republican Mark Harris faces the daunting prospect of not only a new election but a new, wide-open GOP primary.

North Carolina lawmakers opened the door to two or even three new votes Wednesday when they passed a bill that would require a new primary if the election is ordered to be redone. Whether that happens depends on an ongoing investigation into election fraud that could prompt the state Board of Elections to order a new contest.

With the possibility of a new primary, Republicans across the district are quietly considering whether to run. Party leaders and potential candidates have exchanged texts and phone calls as they try to sort out what could be a potentially ugly contest.

Like his 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready in November, Harris’ primary win over GOP incumbent Robert Pittenger is at the center of allegations of election fraud in Bladen and Robeson counties. The state board could order new elections as soon as this month, though it’s not clear when elections would be held. The board has set no hearing date.

In addition to a primary, there could also be a runoff if no candidate captures 30 percent of the vote. One GOP lawmaker said the legislation, which still requires Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature, creates a logical next step to any new election.

“This says that if the (elections) board decides that it has grounds to take such drastic action, what good reason could there be for not extending it to the primary?” said Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte.

But some Republicans see another message.

“It’s sort of a sign that Republicans would like to have a different candidate other than Harris,” said longtime GOP strategist Carter Wrenn.

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Harris could not be reached Thursday.

Who else?

If there are new elections, who else might run?

The most obvious Republican candidate would be incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger. He lost to Harris by just 828 votes in the May primary but hasn’t said if he would run again. Like McCready, the three-term congressman could portray himself as a victim of election fraud. He declined comment to the Observer.

Pittenger raised $1.4 million for the primary, but spent almost all of his money on that contest, federal records show. His campaign had just $2,637 on hand as of the end of November.

Kenny Smith, the former Charlotte City Council member and mayoral candidate, has been mentioned as a possible contender. He couldn’t be reached Thursday.

So has Dan Barry, the well-connected chairman of the Union County Republican Party. He declined comment.

Follow more of our reporting on The North Carolina election fraud investigation

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