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New NC Primary May Replace Candidtate  12/16 10:07

   RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Legislation quickly passed by North Carolina's 
lawmakers this week would prepare a path for Republicans to dump their nominee 
in a still-undecided U.S. House race marred with ballot fraud allegations.

   "I think (legislators are) worried that Mark Harris might be damaged goods 
and they want to have the opportunity to have a different Republican nominee," 
said Carter Wrenn, a Republican operative and consultant to former U.S. Sen. 
Jesse Helms and others for more than 40 years. "That's how I read those tea 
leaves."

   If the state elections board decides ballot irregularities or other problems 
cast the true outcome into doubt and force a redo, the legislation --- if 
allowed to go into law by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper --- would require new 
primary elections 9th Congressional District race, in addition to a new general 
election.

   That would allow Republicans another look at Mark Harris, the Republican who 
led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial results. Harris hasn't 
been certified the winner and an investigation is looking into missing absentee 
ballots in rural Bladen County and whether unsealed ballots illegally handled 
by collection teams there could have been altered. Bladen was the only county 
among the eight within the 9th District where Harris won a majority of mail-in 
absentee ballots over McCready.

   State Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, said holding new 
primary elections in the 9th District made sense because unusual absentee 
ballots results also cropped up during last May's primary. Harris won 96 
percent of the mail-in ballots in Bladen County on the way to his narrow 
victory over GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger.

   The Republican-led General Assembly "has a political motive for doing this. 
They realize that Mark Harris is a damaged candidate and they're trying to find 
a means of replacing him on the ballot," said U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a 
North Carolina Democrat. "So this is a pre-emptive strike, in my opinion, to 
remove Mark Harris and to get another nominee in there."

   New primaries would open the door to Pittenger or anyone else to carry the 
Republican banner against McCready or some other Democrat.

   Pittenger said he wants to wait until after the elections board reveals its 
investigative findings at a hearing that was postponed Friday until Jan. 11, 
meaning the seat will stay empty when Congress assembles Jan. 3.

   "I have received calls from a number of friends in the last couple days. My 
instincts are that I just think we ought to wait for this evidentiary hearing 
and let all the facts come out. Then after that, maybe I can give more 
consideration to that," he said in an interview Friday.

   Harris did not respond to phone and text messages Friday.

   "He is certainly our candidate and as of now he has the most votes," state 
Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said. If there were to be 
a new primary election the state GOP would stay neutral but "every candidate 
who enters that primary, if there is one, will have a chance to make their 
case."

   Democrats could sue if primaries are set in motion, Butterfield said. 
Pittenger and other Republicans didn't contest Harris' nomination though 
suspicions about absentee ballots in Bladen County were raised then, so now 
should be too late, Butterfield said.

   "It's fundamentally unfair to a candidate who has raised and spent millions 
of dollars in anticipation of Mark Harris being the opponent, to have to go 
through that again with a different opponent," Butterfield said. "Dan McCready 
shouldn't have to face two different opponents."


(KA)

 
 
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