NC’s 9th District: Second-rate candidates in a second-chance primary

In the days after Republican Mark Harris called for a new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, a procession of prominent Republicans said no thanks to taking his place on the special election ballot. At the time, that made political sense. Democrats and unaffiliated voters were sure to be energized by the election fraud that caused Harris’s downfall, and the scandal’s stain seemed likely to keep Republicans voters home. Why waste time and money on such an uphill climb when the seat would be available and more accessible in November 2020?

Republican voters will feel the brunt of those decisions Tuesday when they head to the polls and see a second-rate roster of candidates in this second-chance primary. Democratic voters will have an easier time of it, as Democrat Dan McCready has no primary opponents. Libertarian Jeff Scott, who got less than 2 percent of the vote in November, is also running again.

The Observer editorial board endorsed McCready in his race against Harris last fall, and we continue to believe he is the best candidate to represent a changing 9th District.

That’s especially true now, given the Republicans who’ve lined up for the opportunity to face him. Half of the 10 candidates don’t even live in the 9th District — not a disqualifier but certainly a red flag for voters. Those who call the 9th home also bring substantial flaws. They’re led by N.C. Sen. Dan Bishop, the unrepentant author of the discriminatory HB2, which cost the state countless millions in lost jobs and events. Bishop also invested in a controversial social network site that he knew had been linked to white supremacy. Democrats will surely try to use that investment to define Bishop — and his party.

Union County commissioner Stony Rushing has some blemishes of his own, including spreading conspiracy theories about the 9th District scandal, and his extreme conservatism is a poor fit for the growing diversity of his district. Matthew Ridenhour was a collegial and moderate Mecklenburg commissioner, but his barbed 9th District campaign rhetoric should leave voters wondering who he really is and plans to be.

Still, Democrats should be far from confident regardless of who comes out of the Republican primary. The 9th District is still conservative, and given this dizzying era of big news, the Harris saga might not have as much impact as previously thought. Also, McCready remains a largely undefined candidate. He was reluctant to stake out positions in the fall — something that troubled this editorial board and his fellow Democrats. Given his party’s lurch to the left since last November’s blue wave, McCready could be even more vulnerable in the 9th now.

We suspect Republicans who said no to running months ago might be wondering if they should have raised their hands to run. We wish they had. It’s yet another casualty of the 9th District scandal.