Republican Robert Pittenger rode a 7-1 fundraising advantage to a victory over Jim Pendergraph in Tuesdays GOP runoff in the 9th Congressional District, guaranteeing a fall contest that promises voters a clear ideological choice.
Pittenger, 63, had 53 percent of the vote to Pendergraphs 47 percent in early unofficial returns.
The former state senator piled up margins in Iredell and Union counties despite trailing Pendergraph in Mecklenburg County. In Mecklenburg, Pendergraph carried traditionally Republican precincts in central Charlotte while Pittenger won suburban areas in the southeast and north.
Pittenger becomes a strong favorite to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte, whos stepping down after 18 years in the heavily Republican district. Only five people all Republicans have held the seat over the past 60 years.
Pittenger entered the ballroom at the Marriott Charlotte SouthPark shortly after 9 p.m. and shook hands with happy supporters.
Its a wonderful group of people, he told a reporter. Im just a grateful person. I just feel so incredibly blessed to have so many wonderful friends that stood with us.
Pendergraph conceded around 9:15 p.m.
This has been a tough campaign for me, my family, my wife, he told supporters at Dresslers restaurant. We did not lose this fight because we werent working hard. This is not the end of the world for me. I dont consider us losers. It didnt work out. Thats OK. Well move on.
Pittengers victory offers voters a stark choice as he faces Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Libertarian Curtis Campbell.
Theres going to be a clear difference, Roberts, a four-term Mecklenburg County commissioner, said Tuesday night.
Both GOP candidates called for shrinking government, cutting regulations such as the Dodd-Frank financial reform act, and getting the federal government out of the education business. Both also said they would oppose federal funding to extend Charlottes light-rail system.
A day that saw low turnout across the state was no different in the 9th. Pittenger was trying to replicate his performance in the first primary on May 8, when he carried all three counties in finishing first in a 10-man contest.
The runoff was marked by personal attacks. Voters were flooded with ads on TV and in the mail. Last week Pendergraph even accused Pittenger of breaking the law by voting on a bill involving land that he owned in 2003. He also accused him of buying the election.
Pittenger gave his campaign more than $2.1 million. No House candidate in the country spent more of his own money. A pro-Pittenger Super PAC spent another $25,000 on his behalf.
Both Pittenger and Pendergraph ran as conservatives. Though Pittenger questioned Pendergraphs consistency and Pendergraph challenged Pittengers integrity, they agreed on most issues. Pittenger ran as a consistent conservative, noting that Pendergraph had been a long-time Democrat.
We feel hes more conservative, said Teresa Bledsoe, 65, a Charlotte teacher who liked Pittengers TV ads, especially the ones that focused on his family. (Pendergraph) is a good man, so it was a tough choice. But he seems more moderate.
If Pittenger makes it to Washington, she said, she hopes hell be honest and vote on issues as they stand. No pork. No trying to please the buddy system.
Real estate broker David Hoffman also voted for Pittenger.
In a nutshell, he stands for what he believes in, said Hoffman, 32. Hes a straight shooter. You know what youre going to get.
For Guerry Russell, a retiree and Charlotte housewife, the fact that Pendergraph used to be a Democrat may have been a plus.
He changed parties and that can be OK, Russell said. Especially if he changed from Democrat to Republican.
Pendergraph, a life-long Charlottean, also benefited from his deep roots in the community. Roddey Dowd Jr. is CEO of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry, where Pendergraphs uncle was a superintendent.
Ive known Jim forever. Its kind of like voting for family, said Dowd. He did a good job as sheriff.
The 9th District clearly favors Republicans. John McCain carried the district in 2008 with 54 percent of the vote, even though Democrat Barack Obama narrowly won the state.
That same year Pittenger carried the 9th District with 58 percent of the vote in the race for lieutenant governor, though Democrat Walter Dalton won the state.
Pittenger and Pendergraph have different styles.
Roberts very intense. Hes actually a likeable guy if you get to know him, Republican Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Cabarrus County said this month. He did have very distinct attitudes and approaches. But he would listen.
Pittenger focused on fiscal issues, including rooting out waste, fraud and inefficiencies. If blocked in his own initiatives, he would try to win Democratic support for his goals by enlisting nonpartisan advice from software experts at SAS and number crunchers at Deloitte and Touche.
Myrick called Pendergraph more of a consensus builder.
He tries to find solutions to problems, and I know hed do that up here, she said.
Staff writer Claire McNeill contributed.