Mark Harris stumbled during questioning by members of the North Carolina Board of Elections during Thursday’s hearing, struggling to reconcile an email in which he jokes about political operative McCrae Dowless’ potentially illegal absentee ballot plot with what he said was his impression of him as a “good old boy who eats, sleeps and breathes politics.”
Harris is the Republican candidate in the 2018 9th District election the board is investigating.
He told the courtroom about his cordial, chatty relationship with Dowless, which involved frequent talks on the phone about how the campaign was progressing. Harris said, as a trained minister, that he had an almost “pastoral” relationship with Dowless and others on his campaign. He added that Dowless was marketed to him by a local judge as a politics-obsessed hometown boy, and that he took that characterization over his son John’s warnings.
Mark Harris struggled, then, to explain an email between him and John Harris in 2016. The email, which John Harris sent to his father, contained an article about supposed Democratic voter fraud. The email was sent soon after Mark Harris lost the Republican primary that year.
Dowless allegedly carried out an illegal absentee ballot scheme in that contest to help candidate Todd Johnson get a whopping 221 of 225 absentee votes in Bladen County; Harris lost the primary by a total of 134 votes.
In the email exchange, Mark Harris joked about Dowless not liking “Dems cutting into his business,” an allusion to the voter fraud.
When Election Board member Stella Anderson questioned Harris Thursday about how he could go from thinking of Dowless as someone who ran an apparent voter fraud business in 2016 to singing his praises and seeking out his services in 2018, Harris said that he was just “bitter” and “frustrated” with his primary loss when he wrote the email to his son.
Harris shared other tidbits of his relationship with Dowless, including that the campaign operative texted him while he was in Washington, D.C. for new member orientation as news started to emerge about the fishiness of the election.
“This is a setup,” Dowless allegedly texted. “The truth will win out.” Harris said this is what caused him to believe and say that the accusations of voter fraud were nothing more than a political hit job, though he admitted for the first time that he no longer believes that to be true.
Harris also said that he never shared his son’s concerns about Dowless’ methods with the political operative. Mark Harris said that he ceased all communication with Dowless as soon as he, Harris, was subpoenaed.
Elections director Kim Strach then asked if Harris believes now what his son said Wednesday, that Dowless lied to him over and over again. Harris said that after hearing days of testimony, he does.