Soon after the news that the results in the 9th Congressional District were not being certified, Thomas published a piece here titled “What Did Mark Harris Know and When Did He Know It?” In the immediate aftermath of this mess, the NCGOP rushed to have the race certified. Conservatives sounded off, convinced that this was a coup by Democrats trying to steal the election from Harris. Soon, as more news trickled out of Bladen and Robeson, their tune changed.
Just this week, Republicans in the General Assembly crafted legislation to reconstruct the North Carolina State Board of Elections, a Board that has been in limbo — to put it nicely — for months. In fact, the Board was supposed to dissolve but was allowed to stay in place for a bit longer to ensure the situation in NC09 was resolved. It’s unclear where the Board’s investigation will lead, but now it is more a question about the scale of fraud than whether or not any occurred.
Part of the legislation put together this week would require there to be a new primary if the Board calls for a new election. This decision is not wrong — in fact, it’s the right course of action. As investigators, reporters and political scientists from Catawba dug into the data, it seemed that there was a reasonable suspicion of fraud in the primary as well. The margin of victory in that race was equally slim, and it bears a do-over as well.
The big question, though, remains: What did Mark Harris know? Last night, the Washington Post reported that Harris not only knew Dowless, but that he actively sought his help on the campaign:
Harris was warned about possible fraud on primary day in June 2016, during his first bid for the 9th District congressional seat, according to people familiar with the conversation.
The incumbent congressman and winner of the primary had received just one mail-in vote in rural Bladen County. Harris, who came in second place, had won four. Johnson, the last-place contender, meanwhile, had received nearly all of them — 221.
The only explanation, advisers told Harris that night in Charlotte, was that something shady had occurred on that third-place campaign, according to the people.
A year later, they said, when Harris resolved to run for Congress again, the candidate personally directed the hiring of Dowless, an adept field operative and Bladen County native who had helped deliver that unusual result in 2016.
Amy Gardner and Beth Reinhard, Washington Post
Now, whoever these “people familiar with the conversation” are, I don’t know. But it’s interesting that they are divulging this information a full two weeks after the episode began. It’s also convenient for Republicans in Raleigh, as it coincides with their decision to call for a new primary. The only reason they want a new primary is to dump Harris; some have even hinted at Pat McCrory as being interested in the seat, if there is a special election.
I’m not ready to pull out my tin hat just yet, but the Republican Party in this state sure flipped on Harris in what seemed like a short period of time. Just because they appear ready to right the wrongs of this election now doesn’t mean they should be let off the hook. As many others have pointed out, the links between Dowless, Harris, Red Dome, local Republican parties and even the state party are apparent.
There will be a new election in the 9th Congressional District, but don’t let the fact that the right outcome will occur absolve those involved of their wrongdoing.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.