North Carolina Republican Mark Harris will not run in the new election for the 9th Congressional District following November’s disputed result caused by absentee ballot irregularities, his campaign announced Tuesday.
Harris’ decision follows his support for a second election to fill the seat after a contentious investigation into the irregularities. Red flags had been raised regarding potentially compromised absentee ballots stemming from the work of a political consultant hired by Harris’ campaign.
Harris had appeared to win the campaign by about 900 votes before the state Board of Elections decided last week to hold a second election.
Harris cited health concerns related to an “extremely serious condition,” including a necessary surgery in late March, in his decision not to run.
“Given my health situation, the need to regain full strength, and the timing of this surgery the last week of March, I have decided not to file in the new election for Congressional District 9,” Harris wrote in a statement. “While few things in my life have brought me more joy than getting to meet and know the people of this incredible part of North Carolina, and while I have been overwhelmed by the honor of their support for me as the Congressman-elect of NC-9, I owe it to Beth, my children and my six grandchildren to make the wisest decision for my health.”
“I also owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign,” he added. “It is my hope that in the upcoming primary, a solid conservative leader will emerge to articulate the critical issues that face our nation.”
Harris urged voters to out their support behind Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing and to “please stay engaged, for it is our civic duty to do so.”
Harris, a Baptist minister, ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger in the primary. He then proceeded to get 905 more votes than Democratic candidate Dan McCready, a businessman and retired Marine, in November’s general election.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement refused to certify Harris as the winner twice, resulting in months of chaos during which North Carolina remained the only state without settled election results.
The investigation shed light on veteran operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, a convicted felon hired by a consulting firm paid by the Harris campaign who led a loosely connected group involved in questionable absentee ballot activity. Dowless personally turned in 592 of the 1,341 total absentee ballot requests in Bladen County – and only 684 absentee ballots were ultimately cast in the county.
During an emotional testimony, Harris’ son John Harris told investigators that he “had no reason to believe” that his father knew what Dowless was doing. But he went against his father’s and Harris’ strategist’s testimonies and said that he had repeatedly warned his father about Dowless.
While at first Harris pushed for the board to certify his results, arguing that the panel was legally obligated to certify the tally and that he should be seated in Congress while the investigation, he eventually changed course.
McCready, who has already announced that he will run again in the upcoming second election, told CNN Monday that “corruption won’t stand” and calling the new election is “a big victory for democracy.”
CNN’s Eric Bradner, Veronica Stracqualursi, Dianne Gallagher and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.