(Reuters) – A state senator who was a leading sponsor of North Carolina’s much-maligned “bathroom bill” was headed for victory on Tuesday in a special primary to choose the Republican nominee for a rerun of a 2018 congressional race marred by election fraud.
With over 90 percent of precincts reporting in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, state Senator Dan Bishop led his nine Republican rivals with nearly 48 percent of the votes cast, well above the 30 percent minimum needed to win outright, according to unofficial early returns.
Assuming his victory stands, Bishop will face Democrat Dan McCready in a Sept. 10 redo ordered for the November 2018 election. McCready had appeared to lose that election by a slim margin, before state officials determined the outcome had been tainted by an absentee-ballot fraud scheme.
An investigation found a Republican political operative ran a scheme in which volunteers improperly collected, and sometimes filled in, absentee ballots to the benefit of the Republican nominee in that race, Mark Harris.
Harris did not run in the second nominating primary ordered by state officials. The contested seat has remained unfilled, and the months-long scandal became an embarrassment to President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which has accused Democrats without proof of encouraging voter fraud in elections, including the 2016 presidential race he won.
The North Carolina race will not affect the balance of power in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
Bishop, considered a front-runner in the primary rerun, was a chief sponsor of the “bathroom bill” enacted in 2016 by North Carolina’s legislature restricting public restroom access for transgender people.
That measure was repealed following a backlash that saw numerous athletic and business organizations boycott North Carolina. State lawmakers later passed an alternative bill that prevented local jurisdictions from enacting anti-discrimination protections in housing, employment and other areas on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity until the year 2020.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney