GOP gears up for 9th District special election sprint: ‘I don’t think the list is done’

Stony Rushing is collecting endorsements.

Tommy Tucker is forming a staff.

And Matthew Ridenhour is building a case.

The three are among what could be a flurry of Republicans running or considering campaigns in North Carolina’s special congressional election in the 9th District.

The State Board of Elections unanimously ordered the new election last week after a hearing into allegations of election fraud. Wake County prosecutors issued the first indictments in the case on Wednesday, charging the accused mastermind of the absentee ballot scheme and four others.

The board meets Monday to schedule the new election. It could mirror one that Gov. Roy Cooper set this week to fill a vacancy in the 3rd District. That race will see an April 30 primary and a July 9 general election. If there’s a primary runoff, the general election would be in September.

“The reality is you’ll have a big field of candidates with very little money, very little identity and very little time,” said GOP consultant Paul Shumaker. “They need a magician more than they need a consultant.”

For the 3rd District election, necessitated by the February death of Republican Rep. Walter Jones Jr., candidates must file next week. They they have less than two months to the primary.

In the 9th District, which runs from central Charlotte to Bladen County, candidates could also find themselves in a sprint.

“I don’t think the list (of candidates) is done,” said Union County GOP Chair Dan Barry, who has been mentioned himself. So have a handful of state lawmakers, who wouldn’t jeopardize their legislative seats by running for Congress.

The Republican winner would presumably face Democrat Dan McCready, who is unlikely to face a serious challenger. He trailed Republican Mark Harris by 905 votes on Election Day, but has raised more than $500,000 since election officials began their probe of election fraud.

Harris, who last week reversed himself and called for a new election, cited health reasons in announcing Tuesday that wouldn’t run. Instead, he endorsed Rushing, a Union County commissioner.

Rushing already has made national news. He was featured in Wednesday’s Washington Post, dressed as Boss Hogg from the old “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show, complete with white suit, white cowboy hat and cigar.

“That Boss Hogg suit has gotten a lot of mileage,” Rushing told the Observer, adding that he got the outfit for Halloween.

Along with Harris, Rushing has been endorsed by Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey and other local officials. He owns Take Aim Training Range, a store that offers classes and sells firearms. He has worked with farmers throughout the district, which includes heavy agricultural areas from Union to Bladen counties. He was a county commissioner for four years in the early 2000s and has been again since 2014.

Tucker retired last year from the state Senate, where he co-chaired the influential Finance Committee. A Waxhaw business owner, he has credited GOP policies, many of which passed through his committee, with contributing to the state’s economic growth.

“I’ll run on my record, not on endorsements,” he said Thursday.

Union County makes up 27 percent of the 9th District, slightly more than the Mecklenburg County portion, which consists of southeast Charlotte and three southern towns.

But Ridenhour, who lost his re-election bid for Mecklenburg County commissioner last year, said Republicans would do well to have a candidate from the county. While Harris got 59 percent of the general election votes in Union County, McCready won 54 percent in Mecklenburg County. He also won five of the district’s other seven counties.

“Strategically for the GOP it makes sense for us to have a candidate out of Mecklenburg County,” Ridenhour said. “This is an area of Dan McCready’s strength. If we have a strong candidate out of Mecklenburg … we can bring the fight to him.”

Shumaker said whoever the nominee is will have to balance a district divided between urban and rural voters.

“It’s a district made up of country club Republicans in Mecklenburg and country Republicans outside of Mecklenburg,” he said. “And you have to have a candidate able to bridge that divide.”

Whoever wins the special election won’t have much time to celebrate. Filing for the 2020 election opens Dec. 2.

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

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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.