Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in a North Carolina congressional race tainted by ballot fraud, announced Tuesday that he will not run in the new election for the seat.
Harris said in a statement that he has decided not to seek the 9th District seat because of health problems.
“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,” he wrote.
Harris has been recovering from a serious infection that led to sepsis and two strokes.
He threw his support behind Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, whose record Harris said has “proven him to stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom.”
North Carolina election officials last week ordered a new contest in the 9th District, ending a dramatic, months-long investigation focused on irregularities with mail-in ballots. The board voted unanimously to throw out the November results between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, had led by 905 votes in unofficial returns.
His decision not to run follows four days of hearings last week revealing voluminous evidence that a political operative hired by Harris led a scheme to tamper with absentee ballots.
Evidence also surfaced that Harris structured his campaign so that it didn’t directly pay the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, which avoided public disclosure of the payments.
Harris had claimed no knowledge of Dowless’s methods and said there had been no red flags.
That changed when Harris’s son John, an assistant U.S. attorney, testified during the hearings held by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. John Harris said he warned his father in conversations and emails against hiring Dowless because he suspected Dowless had used illegal tactics to win votes in a previous election.
During testimony the next day, Mark Harris claimed not to recollect a conversation with another son about whether the emails would be presented as evidence during the hearings. Facing potential perjury charges for that testimony — and days of potentially damaging cross-examination about his own role in the ballot scheme — Harris abruptly called for a new election. He said ballot fraud had sufficiently tainted the outcome in November to warrant a new election.
Harris could still face legal problems. The Wake County district attorney, in Raleigh, said last week that she plans to begin presenting evidence to a grand jury within 30 days.
McCready began a new campaign for the seat Friday. Pat McCrory, a Republican and former North Carolina governor, on Monday ruled out running for the seat.
After hinting on Twitter over the weekend that he might enter the race, McCrory said on his radio show that he would look at running again for governor in 2020 or for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022.
“My fire in the belly is teaching and being a radio host and keeping the option open of running for governor or senator,” McCrory said on WBT Radio.
If Harris had decided to run again, he would have faced a bruising GOP primary.
Under North Carolina election law, a new election can be ordered as a rematch of the contest that was tainted — in this case, the November election between Harris and McCready. But in December, sensing Harris’s political and legal vulnerability, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring a primary if a new election were called in the 9th District. The district runs from Charlotte to rural eastern North Carolina.
McCready has at least one advantage over Republican contenders: He is less likely to have to endure a tough primary and will be able to spend the spring raising money and organizing for the fall election.
However, his chances in the general election are uncertain given the 9th District’s traditional Republican lean and the question of whether turnout in an off-cycle election will match the enthusiasm that gave a big advantage to McCready and Democratic candidates across the country last year.
The general election is likely to be scheduled for October.
In a statement Tuesday, North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes expressed support for Harris’s decision.
“The most important thing for him to address is his health. . . . There are numerous quality candidates that are discussing a run and although the party will not be involved in a primary, we have no doubt that a competitive nominee will emerge,” Hayes said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement that Harris “may have seen the writing on the wall but that won’t save the eventual Republican nominee from being tainted by the Republican Party’s efforts to steal an election.”
John Wagner contributed to this report.