Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature are seeking to change state law to guarantee that any call for a new general election in the scandal-plagued 9th Congressional District will also include a rerun of the party primaries.
The GOP-controlled state House and Senate passed the provision on Wednesday, hours before a senior North Carolina Republican official told CNN that party leaders are starting to recognize that the odds are stacked against Mark Harris, the Republican candidate at the center of an election fraud scandal.
The decision by the Legislature is the clearest sign yet that, should there be a new election, Republicans in North Carolina are losing faith that Harris can defeat Democrat Dan McCready, whom he led in the initial, uncertified count.
“This has been difficult for Republicans and it has been hard for them to conceive that Harris was a part of this, but at the same time, as these allegations mount, it is difficult for him to disconnect himself – regardless of what he did or did not know,” the GOP official said.
Harris denied last week in a video posted to his Twitter page having any knowledge of the alleged fraud that has operatives from both parties openly discussing the prospects of an election redo.
“There is a growing realization of whatever the final facts are, and irrespective of their personal affection for Mr. Harris, he is facing an insurmountable political problem that could have a major impact on the party,” the official said, adding that Harris’ response to the scandal is only making things worse.
“One taped statement and no interviews in 14 days?” the official asked. “That is a death wish in a political situation like this.”
North Carolina’s State Board of Elections is currently investigating evidence that a political operative hired by a consulting firm working for the Harris campaign directed election fraud. If they can corroborate mounting evidence of irregularities, it is expected they will call for a new vote early next year.
It is unclear whether Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will sign the Republican bill.
“North Carolinians deserve honest and fair elections and the Governor is reviewing this legislation carefully,” said Ford Porter, a spokesperson for Cooper.
Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature currently hold a veto-proof supermajority – but only until the end of this session, meaning any potential move to override Cooper should he veto the measure could set off new protests and accusations of a power grab.
Harris challenged and defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger in a May primary. The results of that vote have also come under scrutiny for potential election fraud. Pittenger could run again if a new primary is called.
A change to the law could also open up the pool to other potential GOP candidates. Among them is former Gov. Pat McCrory, whose name is being floated by Republicans in the state. An associate close to McCrory said, despite the speculation, his candidacy is unlikely.
State elections officials are in the process of reviewing evidence of absentee ballot fraud allegedly orchestrated by Leslie McRae Dowless, whose efforts potentially helped Harris score a lopsided victory in Bladen County’s count. The board is expected to hold an evidentiary hearing in the coming days and could, perhaps with both parties’ blessings, schedule a repeat of the midterm contest in 2019.
Harris has denied wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer. He has not responded to CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina GOP’s executive director, said on Tuesday the party would, in the wake of a separate report that early vote tallies in Bladen had been leaked, support a new election. He did not address speculation over a second primary.
Under the current law, the State’s Board of Elections, which signed off on the primary results but has not certified the general election, is only empowered to decide on a new contest between Harris and McCready. That means the lone path right now to another primary runs through the US House of Representatives, which could refuse to seat the winner.