North Carolina Republican Mark Harris' Path To Election That Won't End The candidate at the center of the disputed congressional election in North Carolina is a pastor who worked hard to break into politics. Now, state investigators are probing his campaign's tactics.
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'Whatever It Took': Republican Mark Harris' Path To The Election That Won't End

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'Whatever It Took': Republican Mark Harris' Path To The Election That Won't End

'Whatever It Took': Republican Mark Harris' Path To The Election That Won't End

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So there is one remaining open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was left empty because of an ongoing investigation into potential election fraud in North Carolina's 9th District. Republican Mark Harris is leading that race. And NPR's Miles Parks has this profile of a boisterous pastor who's been trying to break into North Carolina politics for the past half-decade.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Before Mark Harris was the center of an election that just won't end, he stood on a stage three years ago in Charleston, S.C.

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MARK HARRIS: "This Little Light Of Mine." Go ahead and get your lights up. Come on. Come on. Let's sing it together. (Singing) This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.

PARKS: He was there encouraging Christian leaders to run for higher office. At that point, Harris had just run and lost in the 2014 primary race for a U.S. Senate seat. He'd been pastor at First Baptist Church in Charlotte for the previous decade, often blending the spiritual with the political.

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HARRIS: (Singing) Hide it under a bushel.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (In unison) No.

HARRIS: Oh, that was pathetic.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: No wonder the liberals are kicking our tails. Come on. Let's try it again. (Singing) Hide it under a bushel.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (In unison) No.

HARRIS: (Singing) I'm gonna let it shine.

PARKS: Harris made a name for himself in politics in 2012, pushing for a ballot amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Chad Connelly is the former director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee. He says that Harris connects with voters the same way that President Trump did leading up to 2016.

CHAD CONNELLY: This really just authenticity - and I think a large reason that the Hillarys of the world lose is they come off as inauthentic. And I think Mark Harris is the real deal.

PARKS: That doesn't mean winning elections came easy for him. After losing that Senate race in 2014, Harris ran for a House seat in 2016 but lost narrowly in the primary. One politician told The New York Times that Harris had been through the meat grinder in terms of close elections. But that didn't stop his political aspirations. Here he is at that same event in Charleston, talking about what drove him to run for office.

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HARRIS: I had recognized the emergency. I was relying on God's hand to guide us. And I was willing to do whatever it took to be the man that God would use and sacrifice whatever needed to be sacrificed.

PARKS: Now North Carolina authorities are investigating what the Harris campaign was willing to do to win last year. Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in the unofficial tally for North Carolina's 9th District. But the state's Board of Election is investigating potential election fraud there. McCready accuses Harris of conspiring to cheat in the election. Here's a video he posted to supporters last week.

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DAN MCCREADY: Hey, folks, Happy New Year. As I'm sure you've heard by now, my opponent, Mark Harris, hired a known criminal, who then stole people's votes to try to win here in North Carolina's 9th District.

PARKS: The investigation centers on McCrae Dowless, a local political operative hired by the Harris campaign. Dowless is accused of illegally handling vote-by-mail ballots. Harris says he was in frequent contact with Dowless throughout his primary and general election campaigns. That raises the question of whether Harris knew the techniques that Dowless was using to get out the vote.

The absentee ballot numbers in Bladen County, the county where Dowless was based, were so far in Harris' favor that he would have had to win the vote of every single registered Republican and independent who'd turned in a vote-by-mail ballot, as well as some Democrats. Harris' attorney did not respond to an interview request from NPR. But Harris told member station WFAE that he knew of no illegal activity.

HARRIS: You know, I guess you could even say I almost took on a pastorally role to McCrae Dowless. I mean, I found him to be a very enjoyable individual that I chatted with. Everybody that I had talked to seemed to respect him and seemed to love him. And I had, you know, no reason to think otherwise.

PARKS: Election officials in North Carolina have been monitoring Dowless for many years, however. All of this has state Republicans and Harris allies in a tough spot. They say that if fraud was taking place, Harris was unaware. Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the lobbying organization North Carolina Values, also said there aren't enough ballots in question to affect the outcome.

TAMI FITZGERALD: Mark Harris had no idea if there was anything illegal going on. And I say if because it hasn't been proven yet.

PARKS: She describes Harris as a man of integrity who would have reported anything illegal himself. North Carolina is expected to determine next month whether a new election is needed in the 9th District or whether Harris, after years of trying, is finally going to Washington. Miles Parks, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOKA SHADE'S "SACRED")

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