Politics & Government

‘Run everything over’: Top House Democrat calls for new election in disputed NC race

What’s the political controversy in North Carolina’s 9th district?

Here's an overview of the election fraud allegations in North Carolina's congressional 9th district.
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Here's an overview of the election fraud allegations in North Carolina's congressional 9th district.

The highest-ranking black member of Congress called for an entirely new election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, a sign of growing momentum for major action amid numerous reports of election fraud in the district.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and the incoming House majority whip, has made fair elections a central piece of his legislative career. He was unequivocal in what he thought should happen next in the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, which North Carolina’s state board of elections has declined to certify due to voting irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties.

“North Carolina ought to run everything over,” Clyburn told McClatchy on Thursday. That includes a new primary with incumbent Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger. “Pittenger ought to be on the ballot.”

Harris defeated Pittenger in the May primary, a race that likewise has drawn scrutiny over mail-in absentee vote totals in rural Bladen County.

Mark Harris reacts after winning North Carolina's 9th Congressional District in the 2018 election.

Clyburn said he “absolutely” opposed seating Harris on Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes.

“I’m not too sure we ought not to subpoena (him), Clyburn said of Harris. “We need to find out whether or not Harris was involved in these discussions, and if he was, he ought to be disqualified as a candidate. So it’s not just about having a new election. We need to look at whether this man ought to be standing for election in this first place.”

In a file photo, Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Clyburn announced his intentions to be named Majority Whip in the House. Paul Sancya AP

The state board has subpoenaed the Harris campaign and Red Dome Group, a consulting firm that worked for Harris. Red Dome Group said it hired McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative, who is under suspicion for allegedly gathering mail-in absentee ballots.

McCrae Dowless is at the center of controversy in North Carolina's 9th district, but most of the time he's stayed behind the scenes.

Clyburn’s comments came after Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, the expected incoming speaker of the House, said a House committee could look into the election.

“House Administration Committee will have full investigative authority to determine the winner of the election,” she said. “This is bigger than one seat. This is about undermining the integrity of our elections and what was done there was so remarkable and that those entities got away with it, even to the detriment of Republicans in the primary.”

The U.S. House can call for a new election, including primaries. It can also refuse to seat anyone.

Clyburn, the son of a minister, also questioned Harris’s integrity as a man of faith. Harris is the former pastor at Charlotte’s First Baptist Church.

“This guy is supposed to be a minister,” Clyburn said. “I don’t understand – evangelicals or whoever he may be – how they can advocate the way they do on moral grounds.”

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, checks his phone as he prepares for a press conference on Monday, October 16, 2017, at the Orange County Republican headquarters in Hillsborough, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Also Thursday, the executive director of the state’s Republican Party softened his demand that the race be certified.

“We will not oppose if the non-partisan Board of Election investigators determine the outcome of the race was changed or there is a substantial likelihood it could have been,” Dallas Woodhouse told the News & Observer in a text.

He clarified that the GOP supports the scenario “if the votes and/or ballots in question pass the numeric threshold that the race could have been changed (and) the CNN report is true that certain groups were targeted for systematic vote destruction.

“If they can show with certainty that the outcome could NOT have been changed, they need to certify Mr. Harris and continue to support all state and federal criminal investigations,” he continued. “If they can show a substantial likelihood it could have changed the race then we fully would support a new election. If they hold a public hearing and simply can’t determine one way or the other then, we would not oppose a short delay on the question of certification until they have more answers.”

Woodhouse told CNN that he “threw up” after watching the network’s coverage of alleged fraud last night, anchor Jim Sciutto tweeted. “This has shaken us to the core,” Woodhouse told CNN, according to Sciutto.

But Woodhouse and state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes continued to insist that, barring such evidence, the board should certify Harris as the winner.

“Based on what we know at this point,” state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes told The Charlotte Observer on Thursday, “we think Mark Harris fairly and correctly won this election and we think he should be certified.”

Hayes said he has spoken to Harris since his victory by 905 votes was called into question. “He’s completely flabbergasted,” Hayes said. “Mark’s a good man ... and deserves the whole idea of innocent until somebody proves somebody guilty.”

North Carolina State Senator Tommy Tucker talk about voting issues in Bladen County during a press conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.