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As Mark Harris runs from reporters, his path to House seat narrows

Griffin Connolly, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Republican Mark Harris regrets running from reporters earlier this week, he said Tuesday, as the controversy drags on over his 905-vote midterm election lead in North Carolina's 9th District.

After attending a meeting of the Mecklenberg GOP on Monday, Harris raced past reporters down a back stairwell, setting off the fire alarm and declining to answer any questions.

"Looking back on it now, I regret it," Harris told WBTV in an interview the following morning. "I think it was a rookie mistake. I think I probably should have just walked by you guys and said no comment."

The Baptist pastor-turned politician, whose election night victory has not been certified by the state elections board over election tampering allegations surrounding a consultant who worked for his campaign, indicated that an itch to get home and watch the NCAA football championship between Alabama and Clemson caused him to make a rash decision.

"I had my wife, I wanted to get to the national championship game that was going on," Harris said. "Security had given us an option of going down the back steps."

At the center of the controversy over North Carolina's 9th District results is a small-time political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who specialized in swinging mail-in absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties, at the southeastern tip of the district.

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In the 2016 GOP primary, Dowless helped a candidate named Todd Johnson collect 221 out of 226 mail-in absentee votes in Bladen County.

Harris hired Dowless to work for his campaign ahead of his 2018 primary against GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger, the three-term incumbent.

Harris received frequent updates from Dowless about his work on the mail-in absentee program, and the two developed a friendship.

"You know, I guess you could say I almost took on a pastorly role to McCrae Dowless," Harris told WFAE Tuesday. "I found him to be a very enjoyable man who I chatted with, and again, everyone that I had talked to seemed to respect him and seemed to love him. I had no reason to think otherwise."

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