Last fall, former White House adviser Steve Bannon all but endorsed Charlotte Republican Mark Harris, pushing North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District onto the front lines of a GOP civil war.
But on Thursday, after President Donald Trump’s dramatic split with Bannon, Harris and his campaign distanced themselves from the controversial strategist. Harris is again challenging Rep. Robert Pittenger, who won a 2016 GOP primary.
“Mark has not met with Steve Bannon, and … has not discussed his vision with him,” Harris consultant Andy Yates said in a statement. “As Mark said when first asked about Bannon’s reported interest in this race, we welcome anyone who also promotes President Trump’s efforts to ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Trump lashed out at his former adviser Wednesday following revelations in a new book that Bannon had insulted Trump’s daughter Ivanka and called a 2016 meeting between campaign officials – including Donald Jr. – and the Russians “treasonous.” He said Bannon had “lost his mind.”
Politico said overnight Bannon went “from kingmaker to political liability.”
Bannon has primarily endorsed insurgent GOP Senate candidates. Last year in Alabama, for instance, he backed Roy Moore against a Republican incumbent favored by Trump and GOP Senate leaders.
According to Bannon allies, his interest in the 9th District took off in October when Pittenger brought former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove in Charlotte for fundraisers. Rove wrote a Wall Street Journal column that ridiculed what he called Bannon’s “jihad against incumbent Republicans.” One Bannon ally told reporters that the column shot the 9th District to “the top of his list.”
Pittenger strategist Paul Shumaker dismissed the Harris campaign’s effort to distance itself.
“In the past it appears that the Harris campaign has been trying to make political hay for themselves with their connection to Bannon,” Shumaker said. “Now that he’s a liability he’s trying to distance himself, which is understandable from a political animal now in search of his third election it the last three cycles.”
Harris, who stepped down last fall as pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, lost a GOP primary for U.S. Senate in 2014.
It’s unclear whether the Bannon story will have an impact in a primary between two men who each casts himself as a strong defender of the president and his agenda.
Last summer Pittenger called Trump’s leadership “extraordinary.” And he dismissed reports of a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians as “another story in the media’s neurotic, weekly tabloid obsession of Trump-Russian collusion.” And in an analysis this week, the site Five Thirty-Eight found Pittenger has supported Trump’s position 96.4 percent of the time.
But Harris blames the Republican-controlled Congress for not doing more to help the president on issues such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and building Trump’s promised wall on the border with Mexico.
“Pittenger is part of the establishment, the special interest establishment that is running Washington,” Harris said Thursday. “And he’s just become a part of the system that is part of the problem.”
Harris said despite this week’s public feud between Trump and his former strategist, he doesn’t expect Bannon to become a drag on his campaign.
“We certainly don’t expect it,” he said. “All politics is local. This is about less of Washington D.C. in the 9th District and taking more of the 9th District to Washington D.C.”