Of all the responses from a Republican official to the media in regard to the unfolding scandal in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district election, Thanks for asking us who knew what and when was not on my list of predictions. Earlier today, executive director Dallas Woodhouse sent out a letter to all media covering the story thanking them for their work on exposing the potential fraud that might have allowed a Republican to win the seat. And Woodhouse meant it sincerely, too:
At times I have disagreed with you, or asked for a correction. Our disagreements have always been respectful. You have asked me some tough questions, never more than last week — every one of them fair, questions that should be asked and deserve to be answered.
On behalf of the North Carolina Republican Party, our activists in the 9th Congressional District and the voting electorate, I want to thank you and encourage you to continue these efforts for years to come.
Only you can help end systematic failure to fix this problem going back more than a decade, involving three different North Carolina governors of both parties, several different boards of elections, countless local, state and federal prosecutors and both major political parties.
We all share blame. We can all be part of the solution, but only if you hold us all to account for years to come.
Woodhouse not only gives fulsome praise, but also specifics. Much of that praise falls on stories that North Carolina Republicans want to emphasize in this scandal, such as the lack of transparency from the state board of elections and the “systematic criminal behavior in Bladen County” well before this election cycle. The problems that arose in the aftermath of the midterms is a “scourge … not limited to one candidate, one political party and one election,” Woodhouse takes care to point out in his links. But he also praises the media for asking “tough questions of who knew what and when, including of me and the NC GOP.”
Of course, there isn’t much else to do at the moment, given the nature of the “solid shoe-leather reporting” coming from local reporters, as Woodhouse also notes in his missive. What can one say when Leslie McCrae Dowless’ ballot harvesters are appearing on camera to detail illegal activities? The best bet is to get behind the investigation and the reporting, and hope that the combination provides enough context to show that this really does go beyond one party and one election cycle — especially since Dowless himself worked for Democrats in the 2016 election. The results in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties that time had the same improbable statistical results, only that time tilting in favor of Todd Johnson, the Democrat that hired Dowless.
It’s becoming clear that we’re heading into a situation where the state will refuse to certify the results and order a new election. North Carolina Republicans aren’t too excited about that prospect, as they see Mark Harris as permanently damaged by the scandal:
Now, with a special election in response to alleged voter fraud looking increasingly likely, the ex-Marine is scrambling to reassemble his campaign. And McCready, who’s currently trailing Republican victor Mark Harris by 905 votes, would have the inside track, political operatives from both parties say.
The race would undoubtedly become a national spectacle, commanding attention not only because of the backdrop of potential election fraud, but because it would be the sole federal campaign occurring at the time. …
Privately, national and state Republicans acknowledged that Harris, who denied in a statement Friday that he had any knowledge of illegal activity, would be a toxic candidate. Some Republicans in the state are holding out hope that Harris could be replaced on the ballot, which would require intervention from a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. But if the state board votes to rerun the election, the only way for Harris to be removed from the ballot would be if he moved out of state, according to Gerry Cohen, who formerly served as special counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly.
Why can’t Republicans replace Harris? Because North Carolina certified the primary results — even while Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger tried to raise the issue of absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson with the NC GOP. State law only allows for a new election when they refuse to certify the results of the first election. However, if the incoming Democrat-controlled House ordered a new election along with new primaries, the state would have to comply, as the House has the ultimate authority to determine how its members are seated.
The Charlotte Observer urged the House to do exactly that, arguing persuasively that it should not allow election fraud to stand even when it benefits their party:
If there was fraud, it’s extremely likely that it affected the Republican primary as much as it did the November general election.
That’s why the U.S. House shouldn’t play politics and merely sign off on any state board of elections plan for a new election between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris (and Libertarian Jeff Scott). It instead should order a complete do-over, with primaries open to all candidates, including Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger, who may have been the biggest victim of all. …
That leaves it up to the U.S. House to do the right thing. Republicans can’t do anything in their final weeks in the majority. Democrats take over the House on Jan. 3. They might be tempted to hold only a new general election (cloaked in a deference to state authorities) because it could help them politically. Harris has surely lost some popularity over this scandal, so a McCready-Harris rematch could be appetizing for Democrats.
But it’d be the wrong thing to do. The House, led by Democrats, on Jan. 3 should vacate the election results and order a new election with primaries. Pittenger, Harris and any other Republican would be able to file (and any Democrat). Only that would provide the entirely clean slate that 9th District voters deserve.
I’m going to go way out on a limb and predict that Democrats just stick with a general-election do-over, for all the reasons the editorial board lays out. Putting Pittenger back in the race eliminates a chance to humiliate the GOP, and Harris’ presence in the race will result in a massive amount of fundraising to defeat him. Does anyone think the GOP will be able to raise even a modest amount of national fundraising to protect Harris? Puh-leeze.
The GOP does have a solution, however. Donald Trump could make Mark Harris his new chief of staff, which would require him to move to DC and vacate the state of North Carolina. That would leave the path open for Pittenger to get nominated and defend his incumbency. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Who wants to suggest that to the White House? Anyone? Anyone? Mueller? Mueller?