Republican voters in the south-central North Carolina Ninth Congressional District go to the polls Tuesday to choose a nominee for their star-crossed House seat, which has been vacant since January owing to election-fraud allegations against the campaign of Republican Mark Harris. In February, the State Board of Elections refused to certify Harris’s apparent 905-vote win over Democrat Dan McCready in the 2018 midterms and ordered a special election. Harris, the beneficiary of absentee-ballot-vote tampering by a local operative, encountered health issues and declined to run in the redo. While McCready is unopposed for his party’s nomination, ten Republicans are running, with 30 percent of the vote needed to avoid an expensive and potentially divisive runoff, which would be held in September. NC-09 is rated by the Cook Political Report as eight points more Republican than the average district. Donald Trump won the ninth by a 54-42 margin in 2016.
The front-runner in limited public polling and the best-financed Republican in the race is State Senator Dan Bishop, a staunch conservative who gained some unsavory national attention as the author of North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill, a law designed to force transgender folk to use restroom facilities denoted for the gender on their birth certificates. It was partially repealed in 2017 after Bishop’s bill earned the state terrible publicity and the loss of convention, tourism, and other business, with cost estimates reaching $3.7 billion. If he wins the nomination, it will undoubtedly boost McCready’s national fundraising potential. Bishop, for his part, is running a cookie-cutter Trump-era campaign focused on the evil Democrat Party:
Believe it or not, though, Bishop is the more sedate of the top two Republicans in the race. Running second in the polls is County Commissioner Stoney Rushing, a gun-range owner whose trademark is to dress up like Boss Hogg, the corrupt southern pol in the old TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. Rushing has quite the TV legacy: He was named after Stoney Flintstone, Fred and Wilma’s adopted kid in a Christmas special featuring the “modern stone-age family.” He also sports an endorsement of dubious value from Mark Harris (though it may help him with Christian-right voters who aren’t already in Bishop’s camp).
A third candidate who has a chance of making a runoff — if there is one — is local Realtor Leigh Brown, who is enough of a threat that the Club for Growth, which is backing Bishop, has run an ad attacking her as a “liberal.”
A wrinkle in the ground rules for the special election is that the general election between the Republican nominee and McCready will be held on September 10 unless there’s a GOP runoff, in which case the main event will be moved to November 5. Democratic-leaning Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) is holding municipal elections on that day, which could definitely help McCready.
If Bishop or Rushing ultimately wins, it will provide a little extra extremist local color for the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte.