More than a month to the July 17 runoff, Republicans in the contest for the 9th Congressional District are locked again in a battle of dueling radio ads.
In one ad, former state Sen. Robert Pittenger calls Jim Pendergraph a human chameleon who is telling voters what they want to hear, but then acts like a liberal Democrat when theyre not watching.
Pendergraph, a Mecklenburg County commissioner and former sheriff, counters in ads that Pittenger is spending millions to peddle sleaze in an attempt to destroy my good name and reputation with one lie after another.
In interviews, Pittenger continues to say his opponent is desperate and thats why Pendergraph is airing his outrageous mud attack ads He is clearly deflecting from flip-flopping on issues.
Pendergraph said hes merely responding to attacks from Pittenger issued before and after the May 8 primary.
Im not attacking, Im just straightening him out, Pendergraph said.
The feuding began in the primary, dominating a 10-man field. After U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, the Republican whos held the seat for 18 years, endorsed Pendergraph, Pittenger zeroed in with a flurry of radio and TV ads against the former sheriff.
The ads were so frequent and negative, they riled many Republicans, including other 9th District candidates.
In the primary, Pittenger led the field with about 33 percent of the vote to Pendergraphs 25 percent, but fell short of the 40 percent needed to win outright.
Pittenger spent more than $1 million of his own money in the primary, the third most-expensive congressional campaign in the country.
The runoff is expected to draw 8 percent to 10 percent of eligible 9th District Republicans.
Last week, Pittenger released polling he commissioned that shows him with a large lead.
Thats why Pendergraph is spewing this sad, pathetic garbage, Pittenger told the Observer.
Pendergraph countered that candidates can make polls say anything they want.
Lately, hes been riding throughout the district in an RV he calls JIMs Bus. Hes knocking on doors of targeted Republicans and finding them engaged in the runoff. Were finding a lot of support for me out there, he said.
Candidates rehash charges
Much of the charges from both candidates are rehash.
As he did before the primary, Pittengers radio ads criticize Pendergraph for signing a pledge not to raise taxes, then raising taxes anyway.
Pendergraph said Pittenger is referring to his recent vote as county commissioner to raise taxes for county residents to pay for fire protection.
We actually cut taxes for every resident in the city of Charlotte, he said. County residents were receiving free fire service and Charlotte residents were paying taxes for services they dont receive. It was the fair thing to do.
But Pittenger said hes also referring to Pendergraphs support for the Bowles-Simpson plan and for telling the Observer that taxes may have to rise as part of that plan to erase the deficit.
Pittenger has criticized Pendergraph for his taxpayer-funded pension.
Pendergraph counters in his latest ad: Hes saying I shouldnt have my police and veteran retirement which includes my 401(k) I paid for. If you elect him, will he say the same thing about your Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits ?
He argues that Pittenger himself collects a state pension from his time as state senator. Pittenger has said he gives it to charity.
So he gets a tax deduction giving away your money, Pendergraph says in the ad.
The latest ads
In three recent ads, Pendergraph portrays Pittenger as a millionaire who, like other self-funded millionaires in Congress, is trying to buy influence.
Pittenger throws away more money than the rest of us earn. Its pocket change for him, one ad says.
Pendergraph portrays himself as average folk who grew up on a farm in western Mecklenburg, served in the Army, and worked as a street cop and sheriff.
My mother raised me to be a Southern gentleman, Pendergraph said in one ad. I have hesitated getting into the gutter with Robert Pittenger. But hes given me no choice than to defend my lifetime of adherence to dignity.