NC-9 Special Election Today Is A Bellwether

Ken AshfordElection 2018, Local InterestLeave a Comment

Remember North Carolina 9th District? They are having a special election today. Remember why? If not, here’s what happened…

Essentially, there was a  a ballot fraud scandal which led the state elections board earlier this year to invalidate the 2018 results and overturn what had appeared to be a Republican victory

In February, the state election board, after hearing four days of evidence indicating fraud and an attempt to conceal the scheme from state investigators, voted to order a new electionRepublican candidate Mark Harris, who the board never officially certified as the winner, quickly announced he would not run again.

The reason was an elaborate absentee ballot scheme. Leslie McCrae Dowless, the local political operative contracted by Harris’s campaign whose activities were at the center of the investigation, was indicted on three counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, and two counts of possessing an absentee ballot in violation of state law, according to the Wake County prosecutor’s office.

During the hearing, state investigators established their theory of the case — that Dowless directed a coordinated scheme to unlawfully collect, falsely witness, and otherwise tamper with absentee ballots — and workers who said they had assisted him in the scheme delivered damning testimony. The hearing’s first day ended with Dowless, under the advice of his attorney, refusing to testify before the election board.

In the following days, a top political consultant for Mark Harris’s campaign and the candidate’s own son gave remarkable testimony of their own about the decision to hire Dowless. The consultant, Andy Yates, and John Harris, Mark Harris’s son, both insisted Harris did not know what Dowless was doing and proved too trusting about the operative’s claims. Yet Harris did say he warned his father that Dowless’s prior work on absentee ballots seemed like it could be illegal, a warning that went unheeded by the candidate. As his son closed his testimony with a few kind remarks about his parents, Mark Harris was in tears.

The proceedings lasted four days, with Harris taking the stand on the final day.

But before he did, the board revealed that Harris’s campaign had produced new evidence the night before Harris was to testify: previously undisclosed contacts between the candidate and Dowless. Harris’s attorneys said they had misunderstood the extent of the investigation’s request. Democratic attorney Marc Elias referred to the documents as “explosively important.” He asked the court to consider the way in which the evidence was released as “adverse interference” by the Harris team.

Harris then spent most of the final day being grilled about his relationship with Dowless, before he made the stunning admission that the evidence demanded a new election be held. He had been the apparent winner on election night over Democrat Dan McCready, by less than 1,000 votes.

The election board — made up of three Democrats and two Republicans — had finally reconvened after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper named new members amid an unrelated legal dispute. They reviewed the evidence in the case over two days and then voted to call for a new election at the hearing’s conclusion.

Under state law, the board was able to call a new election if the basic fairness of the election was tainted. It didn’t matter whether the number of votes in dispute would have been enough to swing the outcome.

And so here we are.

Now, NC-9 has traditionally been a safe Republican seat. But according to the last poll, Democrat Dan McCready was in a statistical tie with Dan Bishop.

And that has Republicans concerned.

Republicans have sought to nationalize the race by homing in on issues like Trump’s proposed border wall and labeling McCready a “socialist.” They’re hoping that an eleventh-hour visit to the district by Trump on Monday will lend them the momentum they need to push Bishop across the finish line on Tuesday.

The outcome is unlikely to make any discernible difference in Congress. Adding one seat to Nancy Pelosi’s majority won’t change a single thing about how the House of Representatives operates. If McCready were to win, he’d probably feel constrained about how often he could vote with her anyway, as he’d be representing constituents who prefer the Trump to the Speaker and will probably be voting for him in 2020.  If the Republicans make a real run at retaking control of the House, then North Carolina’s 9th District would be among the first seats to fall.

A Republican loss after such a presidential intervention would sow doubts about Mr. Trump’s appeal in a state his re-election campaign is depending on. But it could prove even more worrisome to the House G.O.P.

Probably, the most likely way a special election upset could benefit the Democrats is if a lot of House Republicans get spooked and it leads to more retirements. If they get the sense that Trump +12 districts are vulnerable, that could happen because congresspeople prefer to “spend more time with their families” than to suffer the indignity of defeat.

The Ninth District covers part of Charlotte and a number of exurban and rural counties to the east. It has not been represented by a Democrat since the early 1960s, and Mr. Trump won it by nearly 12 percentage points in 2016. In any event, political pundits have their eyes on NC-9 today.

LATE UPDATE: Bishop wins by two points.

Republicans should feel relieved they avoided a loss, but here’s why Bishop’s 2% win isn’t encouraging: Nationwide, there are 35 GOP-held House seats less Republican than North Carolina’s 9th District