With Congressman Dan Bishop’s (NC-8) announcement that he will retire from Congress to run for North Carolina attorney general, former congressional candidate Mark Harris, a Republican, tells Carolina Journal he is seriously considering making a third try for Congress in the same area, despite the controversial 2018 election that saw Harris’ victory overturned due to allegations of ballot fraud.
“I believe God may be calling me to help the country during this important time,” said Harris. “In calling our previous donors, I am finding overwhelming encouragement.”
Mark Harris (57) is currently the senior pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in the Iredell County town of Mooresville, a role he accepted in early 2020.
Harris earned his undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University and earned both his Master of Divinity degree and his Doctor of Ministry degree in Christian leadership, from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest North Carolina.
Harris has also taken a national leadership position with the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian pro-life, pro traditional marriage organization. Harris serves as the vice president for the Association of Churches and Ministries and works to organize pastors and churches in support of public policies that support traditional conservative values.
Harris ran as a Republican to represent North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District in the 2016 and 2018 elections. In 2016, he was defeated in the Republican primary by incumbent Robert Pittenger. Harris ran for Congress again in 2018, defeating Pittenger in the Republican primary.
In the general election against Democratic opponent Dan McCready, initial tallies appeared to show Harris winning the election but the Democratic State Board of Elections panel refused to certify Harris’ victory after reports of ballot fraud involving McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative employed by the Harris campaign.
Dowless was later criminally charged in connection with the alleged fraud, but Harris was not. In February 2019, the bipartisan North Carolina Board of Elections dismissed the results of the election and called for a new election to be held. Harris was not a candidate in the new election. No evidence was ever presented that indicated Harris was aware Dowless might have broken the law.
Dowless was facing state charges on counts related to the fraud scheme; prosecutors say he illegally harvested votes in Bladen County in the 2016 and 2018 elections, when he died last year. According to journalists Michael Graff and Nick Ochsner “he maintained his innocence until his final breath.”
“Dowless was a lot of things to a lot of people. To Democrats, he was despicable, a Republican who tried to undermine democracy. To Republicans, he was a low-level fall guy who proved how easy it was to undermine democracy. In his two-decade political career, Dowless had worked for candidates on both sides of the aisle, and in the end he was put out of both,” wrote Graff and Ochsner.
In 2018, the Democrat-majority State Board of Elections broke decades of precedent in refusing to certify the election. Despite some evidence that a small collection of ballots were mishandled, the State Board of Elections never came remotely close to proving that the number of mishandled or corrupted ballots approached the 905-vote margin of victory for Harris. Previously all disputed elections centered on that key question; was the inappropriate conduct or handling of ballots significant enough to possibly change the outcome? However, the Democratic State Board of Elections relied on a never used and unquantifiable standard of a “tainted” election.
The Democrat-majority State Board of Elections conducted a bizarre hearing that veered into territory well beyond what happened during the election, including Harris’s recall of personal conversations with family months after the election concluded.
Facing a hostile board of elections that Harris said was “determined to destroy my reputation, and impugn my character,” Harris himself called for a new election for which he declined to run. Only after Harris called for a new election did GOP members of the State Bord of Elections join their Democrat colleagues in ordering a new election. On Sept. 10, 2019, Dan Bishop won the special election for the seat with 50.7% of the vote to Dan McCready’s 48.7%.
Bishop won re-election in 2020. In 2022, Bishop again won reelection to his seat with 69.9% of the vote, in the renumbered Eighth District, which was drawn significantly more GOP leaning than the district Harris ran in.
“I am not here to relitigate the 2018 election,” Harris tells CJ. “There are too many important issues with what President Biden is doing to the country, and the left has gone crazy.”
Harris says when supporters ask him why he wants to try again, he does refer to the raw deal he feels he and his voters experienced in 2018.
“I know how to campaign, how to raise money, and how to speak to the issues. However, nobody prepared me for what the left tried to do to me. I have seen how a state agency run by Democrats can be weaponized against somebody.”
Harris could face a significantly different election than he faced in 2018. With the GOP-dominated General Assembly redrawing the congressional districts this year, the district Harris would run in (currently represented by Bishop) will likely be a ruby-red GOP district that Democrats have little chance of winning. The current district includes all of Cabarrus County, Montgomery County, Hoke County, and Stanly County, as well as portions of Rowan County and Cumberland County. The district no longer includes Bladen County, which was at the heart of the 2018 controversy.
However Harris will face a difficult GOP primary, where opponents will highlight the 2018 controversy, including the fact that the Harris campaign did in fact have McCrae Dowless on the campaign payroll.
One likely opponent will be longtime GOP activist Dan Barry from Union County. Barry has served in numerous party and campaign roles, served in public office, and ran for the Ninth Congressional District seat in 2012. Barry was a presidential elector in 2020. Barry also confirmed with CJ he is preparing for a possible run.