By Jim EllisMay 14, 2019 — Voters go to the polls today in North Carolina’s second 2019 special congressional election primary, this time in the Charlotte-anchored 9th District.
The seat, which begins in southeastern Charlotte and then travels along the South Carolina border to encompass the counties of Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland, and Robeson, before turning northward to annex parts of Bladen, and Cumberland Counties – the latter entity includes the south Fayetteville suburban population center – has been vacant since the beginning of the year.
Originally, it appeared that Republican Mark Harris, who had denied Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) re-nomination in the 2018 Republican primary, had defeated businessman Dan McCready (D) to keep the seat in the GOP column. But, voter fraud allegations in Bladen County, which have led to criminal charges being filed, caused the state Board of Elections to deny Harris a certificate of election. After a prolonged period, made even longer when the board members were terminated and new appointments made, the panel members ordered a new election.
Today marks the first in what could be a series of three elections to determine who will succeed the defeated Rep. Pittenger. McCready returns for the special election and is unopposed in today’s Democratic primary. Therefore, he will automatically advance to the general election. The Republicans feature a field of 10 candidates, but only three, and possibly four, are in serious contention.
If no Republican receives at least 30 percent of the vote tonight, a run-off between the top two finishers will be held on Sept. 10. If the first-place finisher exceeds 30 percent, the general election, between the Republican winner and McCready, will then move to the aforementioned September date. If no one reaches 30 percent, thus requiring the run-off, the special general will occur on Nov. 5.
It appears there is a good chance the run-off will not be necessary. Among the three most competitive candidates: state Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte), Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, who Harris endorsed even though not a candidate himself, and realtor Leigh Brown, the beneficiary of a reported $1.2 million independent expenditure from the national Realtors PAC, it appears probable that 30 percent threshold will be exceeded.
With the vast majority of candidates raising less than $40,000 through the April 24 pre-primary filing deadline, the chance of the top vote-getter breaking the 30 percent threshold is much greater with only three or four contenders legitimately competing as opposed to the 10 who filed to run.
The one published poll in this primary race, from Public Policy Polling (April 29-30; 592 NC-9 likely Republican special primary election voters), found Sen. Bishop topping the 30 percent mark with 31, following by Rushing at 17 percent. Former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, who carries endorsements from ex-Rep. Pittenger and former presidential candidate and ex-Texas congressman Ron Paul, was third with nine percent. Brown, who had yet to spend significantly in her own right, nor had the heart of the Realtors independent effort for her taken hold, was fourth with six percent. But, much has likely changed since this poll was taken.
Though Rushing polled in second position, he won’t advance to a run-off. The Union County Commissioner, from the place that is the district’s strongest Republican foothold, said he will not force a run-off if he finishes second and the first-place contender is below 30 percent. Rushing said that Republicans need to unite in order to defeat McCready and going to a run-off will only diminish GOP chances in the special general.
Brown had raised $249,322 through April 24, not counting the Realtors involvement, which is about the same amount that Sen. Bishop has gathered. The senator, however, loaned his campaign an additional $250,000, and now carries the Club for Growth endorsement. Brown does not live in the 9th District, therefore, her local contacts aren’t as strong as her main opponent.
It appears, headed into vote counting tonight, that Sen. Bishop is the man to beat. The author of the controversial transgender bathroom bill that caused a political firestorm in the state, and attracted much national media attention, has a strong conservative base. With the large field winnowing considerably before today’s vote, his chances of obtaining a plurality exceeding the minimum nominating percentage have improved.