Candidates face off in GOP primary for NC congressional race

In this May 7, 2019, photo, Dan Bishop answers a question during a debate among Republican candidates for the 9th Congressional District, in Monroe, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
RALEIGH — Republicans are deciding Tuesday who should carry their party’s banner in a high-profile special election for a North Carolina congressional seat vacant since last year’s election was deemed tainted by fraud.

Republican and unaffiliated voters in the 9th Congressional District cast ballots in person after two weeks of early voting to decide which GOP candidate will face Democrat Dan McCready.

The general election will be Sept. 10 if one candidate collects more than 30 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s primary. If no one tops that milestone, that September date will be used for a runoff between the top two Republicans and the general election will be Nov. 5.

The special election was required after the state elections board found last year’s contest tainted when Republican Mark Harris used a political operative who improperly handled mail-in ballots. Harris, who narrowly led after November’s votes were counted, opted not to run again. McCready is running unopposed.

Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer is projecting voter turnout of 10% to 15%. He analyzed early voters and found their average age was 64, almost 20 years higher than the district’s average for registered unaffiliated and Republican voters.

State Sen. Dan Bishop raised the most in campaign contributions, seeded with $250,000 from the Charlotte attorney’s own bank account. As the campaign hit the home stretch last week, Bishop picked up the endorsement of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Chris Anglin, a former Democrat, was barred from GOP debates and failed in a lawsuit to force the state Republican Party to share internal data with him. Real estate agent Leigh Brown was backed by more than $1 million from a national political action committee representing Realtors.

FILE – In this May 7, 2019, file photo, Stony Rushing answers a question during a debate among Republican candidates for the 9th Congressional District, in Monroe, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, who said he was named for a Flintstones cartoon character, produced an ad in which he donned rubber boots and wrapped a snake around his neck to underline his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Bucking the Republican Party was a big theme throughout the GOP primary, with candidates calling party leaders in Washington and Raleigh spineless or corrupt.

Matthew Ridenhour, a former county commissioner and Marine who lives in Charlotte, said he refused to pay heed when party authorities urged him to stay out of the race.

“It’s our time. It’s time for all the people who are sick of the same old, same old establishment smoke and mirrors game. And we as the American people feel like we’re getting played. That’s who I am,” he said during a GOP debate last week.

Candidates have differentiated themselves by focusing on their personal narratives but have been largely unanimous in their support for President Donald Trump and gun rights, and opposition to abortion and left-wing Democrats they contend are vanguards of socialism.

Half the candidates live outside the 9th district, which is allowed, but which some candidates dismissed as opportunism. Bishop and Ridenhour of Charlotte, Gary Dunn of Matthews, Rushing of Wingate and Fern Shubert of Marshville all live in the district, according to Politifact.

The congressional district stretches from suburban Charlotte to suburban Fayetteville along the South Carolina border. It has been in GOP hands since 1963 and President Donald Trump won it by 12 percentage points in 2016.