A former Southern Baptist pastor who leads a contested congressional race in North Carolina said Friday he would support a new election if voter fraud significantly altered the result of the Nov. 6 general election.
Republican candidate Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and a past president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said he “was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing” in the campaign but is cooperating with an investigation by the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement.
The state board has voted twice not to certify Harris’ 905-vote victory pending investigation into questionable activity involving absentee ballots in Bladen County. The probe centers on Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative hired by the Harris campaign and a convicted felon who has faced jail time for fraud and perjury.
“I’m hopeful that this process will ultimately result in the certification of my election to Congress before the next House session begins,” Harris said in a video on social media. “However, if this investigation finds proof of any illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure that all voters have confidence in the results.”
His opponent, Democrat Dan McCready, said he wants to hear more from the candidate.
“The amazing thing is that my opponent, Mark Harris, went out and hired a known criminal under investigation for absentee ballot fraud, to manage his absentee ballot program,” McCready said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“This was someone who is a shady character in Bladen County, someone who the incumbent Congressman Robert Pittenger sat down with for a few minutes and then decided not to hire because he was so shady,” McCready said. “This goes to the top of Mark Harris’ campaign, yet other than that statement that you read written by his lawyers, he has refused to answer a single question about anything that’s happened in the last week.”
The executive director of North Carolina’s Republican Party says he believes that if anything illegal occurred, it would have been done without Harris’ knowledge.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Harris is an innocent victim in all this,” state GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse told the Raleigh News & Observer. “He’s not a win-at-all-costs guy…. He has beliefs.”
A North Carolina Republican operative speaking anonymously, however, told The Politico that if there is a special election, the Democrat would likely have the upper hand.
“Harris is damaged goods,” the source said. “How is he going to be able to raise many money after all of this?”
Harris started his political career by backing North Carolina’s 2016 “bathroom bill” requiring transgender people to use restrooms in many public buildings that corresponded to their sex at birth. A replacement bill dropping that provision faces legal challenges that it still discriminates against the LGBT community.
In 2006 Harris chaired a committee that recommended the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina bar from membership churches “which knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior.”
Harris went on to lead the state Baptist group as president between 2011 and 2013. In 2016 he served on the Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee, which passed a statement opposing same-sex marriage and the allowing of transgender persons to use the restroom of their choice.
During the recent campaign, old sermons resurfaced of him promoting “biblical womanhood,” saying that wives should submit to their husbands and questioning the wisdom of mothers working outside of the home.
He has participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a protest movement that encourages pastors to intentionally disobey the “Johnson Amendment,” a federal law prohibiting tax-exempt non-profits including churches from endorsing or opposing candidates in a political campaign.
Harris has blamed mass shootings on no-fault divorce, violent video games and mental illness, and, according to a Charlotte Observer story in 2014, holds to a “young Earth” theory that creation dates back less than 10,000 years to a literal Adam and Eve.