CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mark Harris announced on Tuesday that he will not run in the new U.S. House District 9 race.
The announcement comes a week after the North Carolina Board of Elections ordered a new election after an evidentiary hearing into potential wrongdoing. A date for the new election has not been announced.
Last week, Harris gave up his fight to be declared the winner of November's 9th Congressional District race, saying serious public doubts about the contest's fairness warranted a new election.
He also said as part of his previous illness, he suffered two strokes, struggled with his recollection during his statements and was not up to testifying due to complications from his recent hospitalization.
On Tuesday, he said in a statement, “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 because of his serious health condition, surgery is now necessary and scheduled for the last week in March.
He said, "Again, it has been an honor to have your love, support, encouragement, and prayers each step of our journey together. Over the next few weeks as I continue to gain strength for surgery, I want to respect my family’s desire for privacy and I will not be doing interviews."
Harris also said he hopes his supporters will get behind Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing in the new election.
The local official from the Charlotte suburbs would "stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom," Harris said.
Rushing, a firing range owner and licensed gun seller, has been a county commissioner off and on for more than eight years, first taking office in 2002. He didn't return a phone call to his shooting range seeking comment on Tuesday.
Only one other GOP candidate -- former state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County -- has publicly expressed interest in running for the seat.
Former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated in last May's primary, told The Associated Press in an interview that it was "good for the country and the party" that Harris wasn't running. When asked why, he said simply: "I think it's just obvious."
Pittenger again closed the door on seeking his old job, saying he's involved in a series of conferences on counter-terrorism and security issues.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday he wouldn't seek the seat. He was previously mayor of Charlotte, a part of which is in the congressional district.
Democrat Dan McCready has been assembling a new campaign staff and raising money to run again in the district that stretches from Charlotte through several counties to the east along the South Carolina border. His campaign finance report showed McCready raised $487,000 during the final five weeks of 2018. His campaign sent out a campaign fundraising plea late Thursday, citing the state elections board's decision.
McCready formally announced his intention to run Friday before several dozen supporters at a brewery in Waxhaw.
"Folks, there's a lot of people that have had their confidence shaken in recent weeks because of the fraud conducted by Mark Harris's campaign," McCready said. "There's a lot of people right now in North Carolina that are disillusioned in our electoral process."
He told the crowd that he and his team were going to "knock on every door" in the district to earn votes and to reassure constituents that he's the type of politician who will do the right thing.
"We're going to talk to people about doing what's right instead of what's wrong," he said.
Harris struggled during testimony last week over why he prepared for his primary election last year by seeking out and signing up Bladen County political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, a convicted felon who had been accused of ballot fraud in the 2016 elections. The state elections board turned over evidence of his actions in 2017 to federal prosecutors, who took no action.
According to testimony and other findings detailed at the hearing, Dowless conducted an illegal "ballot harvesting" operation: He and his assistants gathered up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.
Dowless' workers in rural Bladen County testified that they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates.
It is generally against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a family member to handle someone's completed ballot.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case . Dowless declined to testify last week after the elections board refused to grant him immunity from prosecution based on what he might say.
Read Harris' full statement on the special election below:
"Over the last several days, I have had the privilege of hearing from so many people who have stood with us, cared for us, and who have asked how they can pray for us. In my response to them I have simply said to pray for wisdom and discernment as we make decisions concerning my health situation, the new election in Congressional District 9, and where we go from here."
"After consulting with my physicians, there are several things that my health situation requires as a result of the extremely serious condition that I faced in mid-January. One of those is a necessary surgery that is now scheduled for the last week in March."
"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. While few things in my life have brought me more joy than getting to meet and know the people of this incredible part of North Carolina, and while I have been overwhelmed by the honor of their support for me as the Congressman-elect of NC-9, I owe it to Beth, my children and my six grandchildren to make the wisest decision for my health. I also owe it to the citizens of the Ninth District to have someone at full strength during the new campaign. It is my hope that in the upcoming primary, a solid conservative leader will emerge to articulate the critical issues that face our nation."
"Over the course of campaigning in the district, I met and got to know one such leader, Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing. Stony, from my observation, along with his wife Anne-Marie, have served Union County effectively through the years. His background and his experience have 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. I hope that those who have stood with me will strongly consider getting behind Stony Rushing."
"Through the challenges of life, Beth and I continually place our trust in God, and we both know He holds the future in His Hands. Please stay engaged, for it is our civic duty to do so."
"Again, it has been an honor to have your love, support, encouragement, and prayers each step of our journey together. Over the next few weeks as I continue to gain strength for surgery, I want to respect my family’s desire for privacy and I will not be doing interviews."
Cox Media Group