Robert Pittenger has a tough primary on his hands. Mark Harris, a socially conservative Baptist preacher, heavily involved with the marriage amendment and HB 2, plans to challenge the incumbent congressman once again for the GOP nomination. Last year, Pittenger prevailed over Harris in a three-candidate primary by 134 votes – thanks to a big margin out of his home county of Mecklenburg. Pittenger went on to win an easy victory in the general election over LGBT activist Christian Cano.
There’s good news and bad news for both contenders.
First, Pittenger is no longer the subject of an FBI probe. That’s good news for Pittenger and diminishes Harris’s “integrity” argument.
The second piece of good news for the congressman is that voters in the district (which was completely redrawn last year) are more familiar with him now. This will truly be an incumbent vs. challenger situation, unlike last year when it was more of an open seat race.
Now, the good news for Harris. Last year’s primary featured a third candidate, Union County Commissioner Todd Johnson. His supporters will be up for grabs. If Harris can consolidate the anti-Pittenger vote, he can win. Could another candidate possibly enter the fray and complicate things?
Barring that, the question is how much Pittenger can grow his support from the last primary. Next year’s primary should see higher turnout. Is that good or bad for him? If no candidate clears 40%, then there will be a runoff. Did the lack of a runoff help or hurt Pittenger last year?
Harris is a potentially strong candidate because he’s an outsider and a member of an occupation that GOP voters look very kindly upon. That same combination worked awfully well for another Baptist preacher, an outsider, who became a member of Congress – Mark Walker.
Still, I’d have to give Pittenger the edge. He’s in a better position than he was last time around. And it’s still hard to beat an incumbent congressman.