The choice for voters in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district: Send a conservative Republican back to Washington for a third term or elect a Democratic newcomer to electoral politics with more liberal stands on the issues.
Both U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., and Democratic challenger Christian Cano said they’ve been busy campaigning all over the eight-county district, which has dramatically different boundaries than when Pittenger was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2014. After a U.S. District Court threw out the old lines early this year, the N.C. legislature carved a new 9th district made up of southeastern Mecklenburg, most of Cumberland and Bladen and all of Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties.
Most Washington-based groups that monitor congressional elections say GOP incumbent Pittenger is the heavy favorite Tuesday. But Democrats now comprise 45 percent of the voters in the district – much higher than the 32 percent of Democrats in the old 9th.
Both candidates were born in Texas – Pittenger in Dallas, Cano in Fort Worth – and both now live in south Charlotte.
But on issues and backgrounds, the two rivals couldn’t be more different.
Pittenger, 68, said he wants to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act; Cano, 49, said the law, while not perfect, benefits many families who wouldn’t otherwise have health insurance.
Cano, who traces his ancestry to Mexico and to Texas before it was part of the United States, said he favors policies that would bring undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows,” including a path to eventual citizenship. Pittenger stresses securing U.S. borders and has said he opposes a path to citizenship for those here illegally.
In his travels around the district, Pittenger touts his membership on the House Financial Services Committee and his leadership of a congressional task force formed to investigate terrorism financing.
He said that experience gives him credibility in speaking about the issues he said voters in the 9th district are most concerned about – jobs and national security.
“We talk about what our capabilities are to defeat the terrorists and the role I’ve been playing,” Pittenger told the Observer in an interview. “Then we talk about what needs to be done to improve our economy, (removing the federal) regulatory burden on small business and on small financial institutions.”
Cano told the Observer he visited every early voting site in the district, telling would-be constituents that he would be a congressman committed to change and not the political establishment.
He said he’s also told them he’d push for federal action on their desire for better infrastructure – including roads and bridges – and for more robust support of education.
The need to spend more money on on infrastructure “has especially been highlighted after Hurricane Matthew,” which flooded parts of the district, Cano said. “Dangerous bridges and roads impact our economy and our farmers. ... and have been ignored for too long.”
As a congressional veteran, Pittenger also pointed to local projects he’s helped by securing federal funds, including a new control tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
“And constituent services are very important for us,” said Pittenger, who added that his team in Washington and North Carolina have been given high marks for helping veterans, seniors, small businesses, travelers who need passports and others navigate federal procedures and policies.
Cano, who is making his first run for public office, said he wants to help bring more civility and bipartisan dialogue to Congress – and to the district.
“I think we deserve better (in Washington),” Cano said. “Our slogan is ‘Bringing neighbors together.’ ”
Education: B.A., University of Texas.
Occupation: Formerly owned a real estate company.
Family: Wife Suzanne and four grown children.
Religion: Attends Forest Hill Church.
Political resume: N.C. Senate, 2003-07; U.S. House, 2013-present.
Also of interest: After college, Pittenger worked for 10 years as assistant to the president at Campus Crusade for Christ.
Education: B.A., Texas Christian University
Occupation: Hotel consultant.
Family: Partner Andrew Ennis.
Religion: Attends Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
Political resume: Has never held public office, but was formerly a member of the N.C. Democratic Executive Committee.
Also of interest: Cano always wears a cowboy hat in public in honor of his grandfather, Zosimo Herrera, a World War II veteran who was instrumental in bringing down signs urging discrimination against Mexicans in one Texas town.