Republicans Robert Pittenger and Jim Pendergraph, whose feuding dominated the crowded primary in the 9th Congressional District, are poised to take it into a July 17 runoff.
Buoyed by strong showings in the Charlotte suburbs, Pittenger led the 10-man field with about 33 percent of the vote. Pendergraph had about 25 percent.
While each fell short of the 40 percent needed to win outright, both lapped the 10-man field. Edwin Peacock, a former Charlotte city council member, ran third with about 12 percent. State Rep. Ric Killian had about 10 percent. No one else had more than 7 percent.
The eventual winner will be the favorite in November against Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Libertarian Curtis Campbell in the heavily Republican district that includes most of Mecklenburg County and parts of Iredell and Union.
The candidates are running for the seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte. Its open for the first time in 18 years, and only the fifth time in six decades.
I think we brought a clear, conservative message to the voters, Pittenger said Tuesday night. They know that I will stand for those values in the future. This has been a grass-roots effort with lots of involvement. It hasnt just been Pittenger.
But only two House candidates in the country spent more of their own money. Outpacing his rivals, the Charlotte real estate investor and former state senator gave his campaign $1.1 million.
Pendergraph, a Mecklenburg County commissioner and former sheriff, has run as Myricks hand-picked successor. He was the target of a barrage of ads by Pittenger.
He spent a million and a half dollars, and Im nipping at his heels, Pendergraph said Tuesday night. If I had spent (that) Id be really disappointed if I dont blow out all the candidates. Everything he has said, he either has stretched the truth or out-and-out lied.
Pendergraph, under attack from Pittenger and a super PAC that supports him, struggled to compete financially.
Through mid-April, hed raised $173,000, less than three rivals. Last week he loaned his campaign $20,000, saying, The wells near dry.
Pittenger defended his ads, which have flooded mailboxes as well as airwaves.
Of course Mr. Pendergraph has pandered and flip-flopped, he said. Well show the distinctions between the two of us.
Pittenger, a social as well as fiscal conservative, won support from voters like Carter Brydon, a south Charlotte Republican. He said he liked Pittengers big-time Christian values.
The other candidates
Though other candidates rejected the notion of a two-man race, few found any traction with voters.
Peacock, a former Charlotte City Council member, cast himself as a pragmatic moderate in an effort to separate himself from the field. In mailings and speeches, he touted his opposition to Tuesdays referendum on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Like all the candidates, Pendergraph and Pittenger criticized federal regulations and promised to cut spending. Both said the federal government has no role in health care.
Last week Pendergraph stirred controversy when he said he had reason to be suspicious of President Barack Obamas claim that he was born in the U.S. and thereby eligible for the presidency. His remarks on the birther issue prompted the Observer to retract its endorsement for the first time.
It also appeared to cost him some votes.
I was going to go with Pendergraph (until) the birther stuff, said Richard Ellis, a south Charlotte Republican. Thats kind of silly. I think its an issue thats been put to rest.