Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in a North Carolina congressional race that was tainted by ballot fraud, announced Tuesday that he will not run in the new election for the seat.
Harris said in a statement that he has decided not to seek the 9th District seat due to health problems.
“Given my health situation, the need to regain full strength, and the timing of this surgery the last week of March, I have decided not to file in the new election for Congressional District 9,” Harris said.
Harris has been recovering from a serious infection that had led to sepsis and two strokes.
He threw his support behind Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing, whose record Harris said has “proven him to stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom.”
North Carolina election officials last week ordered a new contest in the 9th District, ending a dramatic months-long investigation focused on irregularities with mail-in ballots.
The board voted unanimously to throw out the November results between Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.
Harris, an evangelical minister from Charlotte, had led by 905 votes in unofficial returns.
His decision not to run follows four days of hearings last week revealing voluminous evidence that a political operative had led an illegal scheme to tamper with absentee ballots on behalf of Harris’s congressional campaign last year.
Evidence also surfaced that Harris had structured his campaign so that he wasn’t paying the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, directly and to avoid public disclosure of those payments.
Through most of the hearing, Harris claimed no knowledge of Dowless’s methods and said there had been no red flags.
That changed last Thursday, after Harris falsely characterized a conversation with his son, Matthew, about whether emails in which he suggested that Dowless’s tactics were questionable and was warned by another son, John, not to hire him, would become public.
Facing potential perjury charges for that testimony — and days of potentially damaging cross-examination about his own role in the ballot scheme — Harris abruptly called for a new election and declared that ballot fraud had sufficiently tainted the outcome in November to warrant a new election.
McCready began a new campaign for the seat last Friday.
Another Republican, former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, ruled out running for the seat on Monday.
After hinting on Twitter over the weekend that he might enter the race, McCrory said on his radio show that he would look at running again for governor or for a U.S. Senate seat in 2022 instead.
“My fire in the belly is teaching and being a radio host and keeping the option open of running for governor or senator,” he said on WBT Radio.
If Harris had decided to run again, he would have faced a bruising GOP primary.
Usually under North Carolina election law, a new election is ordered as a rematch of the contest that was tainted — in this case, the November election between Harris and McCready. But in December, sensing Harris’s political and legal vulnerability, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring a primary if a new election were called in the 9th District.
McCready has at least one advantage over Republican contenders: he is less likely to have to endure a tough primary, and will be able to spend the spring raising money and organizing for the fall election instead.
However, his chances in the general election are uncertain given the 9th District’s traditional Republican lean and the question of whether turnout in an off-cycle election will match the enthusiasm that gave a big advantage to McCready and Democratic candidates across the country last year.
The general election is likely to be scheduled for October.
In a statement Tuesday, North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes expressed support for Harris’s decision.
“The most important thing for him to address is his health,” Hayes said of Harris. “This has been a grueling process for all involved, and we unequivocally support his call for a new election. There are numerous quality candidates that are discussing a run and although the party will not be involved in a primary, we have no doubt that a competitive nominee will emerge.”
John Wagner contributed to this report.