Southern Baptist Pastor Beats Sitting Congressman in N.C. Primary Upset

Rev. Mark Harris speaks in Charlotte, N.C. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP, File)

Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris defeated a sitting congressman in the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District Tuesday night. Rep. Robert Pittenger became the first legislator to lose re-election in 2018.

“Historically, pastors have always been at the forefront of leading America,” evangelical organizer David Lane, whose American Renewal Project endorsed Harris in 2018, told PJ Media in a statement Wednesday. Lane mentioned two quick examples of Lutheran pastors who served in Congress shortly after the American Revolutionary War.

“Frederick Muhlenberg was a Lutheran pastor who was elected the first U.S. speaker of the House and a signature on the Bill of Rights,” he told PJ Media. “John Peter Muhlenberg was a Lutheran pastor who became a general under George Washington, and following the war was elected to the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate.”

Lane concluded his remarks by congratulating Harris with a Bible reference. “Congratulations to Mark Harris, who is just continuing the long tradition of pastors bringing Salt and Light to the public square,” he said, referencing Matthew 5:13-14, when Jesus called His disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” calling them to bring vibrant truth and life to those around them.

As Pittenger learned of his loss Tuesday night, he told supporters at a “victory” party, “I’ve called Mark Harris, I’ve conceded the race and I wish him the best.”

“I invite the congressman and his supporters to join our journey as we focus on keeping the 9th District red in November,” Harris said, the Charlotte Observer reported. He urged Pittenger to join him to ensure “the hard-working people of the 9th District have a congressman who is focused on representing them and their values.”

Harris took 17,223 votes (48.52 percent) to Pittenger’s 16,409 (46.23 percent). The former pastor also challenged Pittenger in 2016, only losing to the congressman by 134 votes.

Although Pittenger won re-election in 2016 by 16 points, and the district voted for Donald Trump by just under 12 points, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has targeted the 9th Congressional District for November. Democratic donor Tom Steyer also pledged to spend $1 million to flip the seat. On the Republican side, Vice President Mike Pence visited Charlotte to promote the Republican tax reform law on April 20.

Marine Corps veteran Dan McCready, who also founded a solar company, heftily won the Democratic primary with 83 percent of the vote. McCready also outraised Pittenger in 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, and had over $1 million in cash on hand at the end of March. Harris, meanwhile, reported having less than $75,000 in cash on hand as of March 31. McCready has distanced himself from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Harris cast the primary as a battle for “the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” challenging Pittenger as a representative of the Washington, D.C. “swamp.” Both candidates ran to represent Donald Trump’s agenda in Congress.

Pittenger enjoyed the backing of national Republican leaders including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ill.), and Vice President Mike Pence. Harris, meanwhile, suggested he would support a co-founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus for the role of speaker of the House.

McCready will represent a strong challenge to Harris, but the Republican still has the edge in this deep-red district.