By David Roach
CHARLOTTE, NC (BP) — Former pastor and Baptist State Convention of North Carolina president Mark Harris has become the first congressional candidate this year to force an incumbent out of office.
Harris – who resigned the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC last year to focus on a run for the U.S. House of Representatives – defeated three-term U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger May 8 by a 49-46 margin in the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 9th District. Previously, he had served as pastor of Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta from January 2000-May 2005.
“From the beginning, this race has been about giving the people of this district a voice,” Harris told supporters on Election Night, according to video from Charlotte’s WSOC-TV. “You have stood up tonight across the 9th District, and you have made that voice loud and clear.”
Harris challenged Pittenger in the 2016 GOP primary and lost by 134 votes out of approximately 26,000, setting up this year’s rematch. Harris finished third in the 2012 primary for one of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seats.
According to The Washington Post, Pittenger was endorsed this year by House Speaker Paul Ryan among other Republican establishment figures and shared a stage with Vice President Mike Pence last month. Harris was endorsed by the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund and, according to The Charlotte Observer, he “ran as much against the GOP-controlled Congress as Pittenger.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said she is “elated that voters recognized that Mark Harris has the integrity, leadership skills, and conservative values to represent the 9th Congressional District.”
“Because he has marched for the dignity of human life, defended and protected marriage and the deeply-held religious beliefs of all North Carolinians, supported efforts to enforce long-standing privacy rights ensuring men and women use separate bathrooms and showers, and advocated for peace in the street with other community members, Mark Harris is the best candidate to represent North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District,” Fitzgerald, a trustee for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement.
After resigning his pastorate in 2017, Harris told Baptist Press there is “a distinct need” for pastors “to get engaged” in American public life.
“There continues to be a tremendous need [in politics] for voices that are going to stand on righteousness, that recognize where we are moving as a nation,” Harris said in 2017, noting “the culture seems to become more and more infected with a liberal point of view.”
In November’s general election, Harris will face Democrat Dan McCready, a Marine Corps combat veteran who states on his campaign website that he was converted to faith and Christ and baptized while serving in Iraq a decade ago. The Associated Press reported he once worked for Campus Crusade for Christ. McCready has campaigned as a centrist, according to The Observer.
Though Republicans have held the 9th District for 58 years, The Observer reported, McCready has a six-figure advantage in fundraising thus far.