RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – In a closely watched contest that could foreshadow the 2020 race, voters in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District will cast their ballots Tuesday in a special do-over election called in light of ballot-fraud accusations.
Following a four-day hearing in February centered on evidence of an illegal absentee-ballot harvesting scheme in rural Bladen County during last year’s midterm, the North Carolina Board of Elections voted unanimously to throw out the 2018 results and hold a new election.
One of the state’s 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the 9th District has been unrepresented since January.
Mark Harris, a pastor who defeated the Republican incumbent in the primary, appeared to win last November by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready.
But the elections board found those results were tainted by Harris’ campaign operative, McCrae Dowless, who was later found guilty of harvesting and tampering with absentee ballots in some rural areas of the district. He reportedly hired people to collect unsealed ballots door-to-door.
Shortly after February’s emotional hearing, Harris withdrew from the redo election, citing health concerns.
McCready never stopped campaigning, often reminding his would-be constituents of the Republican-centered fraud scandal that voided their votes.
The Democrat, a former Marine, was introduced to his new rival when state Senator Dan Bishop won the do-over Republican primary in May, defeating nine other contenders. McCready ran unopposed in his party.
Bishop is known for his support of the state’s controversial 2016 transgender bathroom bill, which sought to keep North Carolinians from using bathrooms not designated for their sex assigned at birth.
Tuesday’s election is seen by many as a possible early indicator for the 2020 election, as McCready fights to win back a House seat that has been under Republican control since 1963. The race is seen as a toss-up based on several polls.
Fueled by an historic level of outside spending, the two candidates’ campaigns have spent the last few weeks blasting local airwaves with advertisements. Bishop’s campaign employed various talking points that resonate with Trump voters – pinning a “socialist” label on McCready, for example.
President Donald Trump and several other prominent Republican figures have publicly expressed support for Bishop, while 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls like Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden spoke in support of McCready.
On Monday evening, Trump will speak on the eve of Election Day in an eastern corner of the sprawling 9th District that heavily voted in his favor in 2016.
The president’s popularity in the district has fallen, however. He has a 47% approval rating there, according to an Inside Elections poll, compared to the 52% approval rating he had last year, when he visited Charlotte to support Harris.