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Dan Bishop wins N.C. District 9 Congress GOP primary

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) — By John D. Simmons The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

May 14-- RALEIGH, N.C.-State Sen. Dan Bishop won in Tuesday's 9th District Republican primary, three months after North Carolina officials took the unprecedented step of throwing out an election marred by fraud allegations.

Bishop will face Democrat Dan McCready in what's expected to be the nation's most closely watched special election. The general election will be Sept. 10.

With 82 percent of votes in, Bishop led Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing 48 percent to 20 percent. They were the top vote-getters among 10 Republicans running to oppose McCready and two third-party candidates.

Bishop was leading in all of the district's eight counties, including Rushing's home of Union.

Turnout was low. Based on the early vote, one analyst predicted only about 10 percent of voters would turn out even in what's expected to be the nation's highest-profile special congressional election of the year.

State election officials called the special election after allegations of absentee election fraud marred the results of the 2018 election between McCready and Republican Mark Harris. Five people have been arrested on charges relating to the fraud.

The GOP primary drew more than $1.4 million in spending by outside groups. About $1.3 million of that came from the National Realtors Association political action committee in support of Leigh Brown, a Cabarrus County Realtor and the PAC's former fundraising chair.

The political arm of the anti-tax Club for Growth, meanwhile, spent more than $138,000 against Brown and Rushing. A spokesman said the group also "bundled" more than $84,000 in contributions for Bishop.

A poll in the National Journal's Hotline this month showed Bishop with 31 percent, followed by Rushing at 17 percent and former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour at 9 percent. Brown was fourth with 6 percent. No one else had more than 5 percent.

Bishop raised more than any other candidate, $572,000. That was twice as much as Brown and seven times as much as any other candidate.

Almost all the candidates have run as strong supporters of President Donald Trump. The only one who hasn't: Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin, a former Democrat who switched parties in 2018 to run as a Republican for the state Supreme Court. Republicans ostracized him from party forums and events.

Bishop, a two-term senator and former county commissioner, described himself as "battle tested." Rivals said his sponsorship of House Bill 2-the law that required people to use the bathrooms of the gender on their birth certificate in public buildings-would hurt him in a general election. The law led to boycotts of the state by businesses, entertainers and college and pro sports events. At one debate, Brown said HB2 "frightens off unaffiliateds and conservative Democrats."

"I think people are ready to move on," Bishop said. "There are new issues ... There's a fascination with the media about it."

Bishop in turn has criticized Brown for her backing by the Realtors PAC and questioned her conservative credentials.

She considered running for governor in 2012 as an independent and has donated to Democrats as well as Republicans. Brown replied that she was seeing "how the system worked" when she tried running as an independent. "I have always been a registered Republican," she said at one debate. "I am not someone who looks for fights. I look for solutions."

Rushing ran with the endorsement of Harris, who had declined to run again citing health concerns. His February announcement came five days after the State Board of Elections ended a hearing into the election fraud allegations by calling for a new election. Harris, who led McCready by 905 votes on Election Day, had reversed himself and called for a new vote.

Ridenhour, a former Mecklenburg County commissioner, cast himself as the best candidate to oppose McCready, a former Marine. "It takes a Marine to beat a Marine," he said.

State elections officials dealt with a glitch when absentee ballots in some counties went out with labels that appeared to suggest anybody could collect the finished ballots and drop them off. It was "ballot harvesting" in Bladen County that led to what election officials called "a coordinated, unlawful ... absentee ballot scheme" in the district. The correct labels said only if a voter has a disability could someone deliver their ballot.

Election officials said despite the glitch, there's no evidence of ballot fraud. State board spokesman Patrick Gannon said the board's February hearing and subsequent arrests "should serve as a very strong deterrent to anyone who might consider committing fraud in this election."

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