Republicans seeking nomination for the last open seat in the 116th United States Congress face a wide-open field after a former Southern Baptist pastor initially declared winner of the race said he will not campaign in an upcoming special election in North Carolina’s 9th District.
Republican Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a past president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said Tuesday he will not run in a new contest ordered last week by the North Carolina Board of Elections.
Harris, winner by 905 votes in a Nov. 6 general election tainted by evidence of voter fraud, cited health issues in his decision to give up his congressional bid.
“On January 18 I went to the hospital,” Harris said during a recent hearing into alleged absentee ballot tampering in his race with Democratic candidate Dan McCready last fall. “After battling what we thought was bronchitis I developed a severe infection that actually caused me to become septic. In the process of that illness I experienced two strokes from which I am still recovering.”
The election board voted unanimously to stage a new election after four days of testimony including a stunning turnaround by Harris, who previously filed a lawsuit petitioning a state court to certify his election.
“It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted,” said Harris, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016.
Drama included surprise testimony by Harris’ son, an assistant United States attorney in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, that he tried to raise red flags about McCrae Dowless, a political operative hired by the Harris campaign at the center of allegations, contradicting earlier statements that his parents were not warned about possible illegal activity.
“I love my dad and I love my mom,” John Harris said as his father wept nearby. “I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle, OK? I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them.”
Harris said Feb. 26 on Facebook he faced an “extremely serious condition” that requires him to undergo surgery.
“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.
“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, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2014, rose to political fame in North Carolina as a driving force behind legislation in 2016 requiring transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings that corresponded to their sex at birth.
A replacement law passed in 2017 removed that requirement but clarified that state lawmakers, not local governments, are in charge of making such rules. That law is being challenged in federal court.
As president of the 4,300-church Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Harris mobilized churches in North Carolina to support a 2012 ballot initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The amendment to the state constitution was passed overwhelmingly by voters but found unconstitutional by a federal court of appeals.
During his recent campaign, Democrats ran ads with excerpts of Harris preaching in a sermon that “God instructs all Christian wives to submit to their husbands.” Harris called it a dirty trick by political opponents and “sick abuse” of sermon videos