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After election fraud scandal, North Carolina GOP candidates lean into the absurd

After a Republican effort to steal an election failed, the field of replacement candidates are trying to out-do one another.

State Sen. Dan Bishop (R) (middle) is one of nearly a dozen candidates in the GOP primary for North Carolina's 9th congressional district. Credit: Dan Bishop/Facebook
State Sen. Dan Bishop (R) (middle) is one of nearly a dozen candidates in the GOP primary for North Carolina's 9th congressional district. Credit: Dan Bishop/Facebook

Like moths to a flame, the vacant congressional seat in North Carolina’s 9th district has attracted the attention of nearly a dozen of the state’s most bigoted Republican lawmakers. Among the latest to join the fray is state Sen. Dan Bishop, a Republican lawmaker who championed North Carolina’s ill-fated and transphobic “bathroom bill” in 2016.

This week, Bishop leaped into the race with his first campaign ad, focusing his criticism at the likely Democratic nominee, Dan McCready.

In a 90-second video simply titled, “Crazies,” Bishop goes after some of the most prominent Democrats in Congress — mostly women, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — for such radical beliefs as “racism is bad,” and “putting children in cages is morally wrong.” The video also falsely accuses Democratic lawmakers of supporting infanticide and advocating the seizure of all guns, leaning heavily on deceptively-edited videos of politicians like Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to buttress their argument.

“They’re socialists. Gun grabbers. Supporting infanticide and open borders,” said Bishop in the text accompanying his video.

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Bishop was one of the driving forces behind North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ legislation HB-2, which passed in 2016. At the time, Republicans controlled every branch of state government and used their unchecked power to enshrine homophobia into state law. In addition to targeting the transgender community by making it a crime to use a single-gender restroom that doesn’t correspond to the gender listed on one’s birth certificate, the bill superseded any local anti-discrimination ordinances, clearing the way for private businesses to deny service to the LGBTQ community.

Bishop was a lead sponsor of the bill, which quickly laid waste to the state’s economy. Several major corporations — including Apple, PayPal, and Deutsche Bank — pulled out of planned expansions into the state, costing thousands of jobs. Dozens of major events — including the NBA All-Star Game and the NCAA March Madness tournament — were moved in response to the bill, costing the state millions of dollars in economic activity. Entire states, including New York, banned any taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina. Conservative estimates suggest Bishop’s bill cost North Carolinians at least $3.76 billion before Democrats succeeded in getting parts of the legislation overturned months later.

Even Bishop himself, who co-authored the bill, wants nothing to do with the political fallout.

“The people of North Carolina have put that controversy behind them and they’re ready to move on,” Bishop told the Charlotte Observer earlier this month when he formally entered the race. “It’s an exhausted issue. We’re on to a new campaign and new issues.”

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Not content with limiting his bigotry to the LGBTQ community, in a 2017 Facebook post decrying “San Francisco thought police,” Bishop publicly announced he was financially investing in Gab, a social media platform for white supremacists. When his investment became a campaign issue during his most recent reelection campaign, Bishop defended his investment and pleaded ignorance. “I don’t use Gab, but if its management allows its users to promote violence, anti-Semitism, and racism on the platform they have misled investors and they will be gone quickly, and rightfully so.”

Bishop is just one of several far-right extremists vying for a seat in Congress.

The district in question remains unfilled in the House of Representatives thanks to a historic case of election fraud perpetrated by Republican operatives on behalf of Mark Harris, an anti-LGBTQ pastor who unseated former Rep. Robert Pittenger in the 2018 GOP primary. Harris finished ahead of Democratic nominee Dan McCready by 905 votes in last November’s general election, but irregularities in the absentee ballot count led to an investigation of election fraud that ensnared a longtime GOP operative deliberately hired by the Harris campaign to sway the outcome of the election.

Harris, who could still face criminal charges for his role in the fraud, announced in January that he would not seek the nomination in 2019, and instead endorsed Stony Rushing, a conspiracy theorist and one of Harris’ earliest and most vocal defenders.

Also in the race is Fern Shubert, another Republican state lawmaker. In her reelection campaigns and a failed 2004 gubernatorial bid, Shubert frequently compared homosexuality to pedophilia, and claimed the state’s rising crime rate was because of marriage equality.

Pittenger, the last person to hold the seat, has endorsed yet another candidate, former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour. Pittenger also lashed out at Bishop, tying him to the scandal-plagued Harris campaign before retracting his comments after Bishop threatened to sue him.

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In all, nearly a dozen Republicans have filed paperwork to vie for the nomination. Whoever wins a May 14 primary will likely face McCready again in an election that will surely be closely observed by candidates across the country heading into the 2020 election cycle.