A North Carolina Democrat holds a surprising lead in one of the most watched congressional races in the country, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
Democrat Dan McCready holds a 7-point lead on Republican Mark Harris in North Carolina's 9th District, the conservative, Raleigh-based Civitas Institute found in its poll of 543 likely voters in the district. McCready's lead is larger than the poll's 4.6 percent margin of error.
It's a reliably Republican district where President Donald Trump won by 11 points and incumbent Robert Pittenger won re-election with more than 58 percent of the vote in 2016.
But Harris defeated Pittenger in May's GOP primary.
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"Republicans should be concerned," Civitas President Donald Bryson said in a news release announcing the poll results.
McCready has 43 percent of the vote, Harris has 36 percent and Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott has 3 percent, the poll found.
McCready, an Iraq War veteran and owner of a solar energy company, holds a 16-point edge with women. McCready leads across all age ranges and with black voters, unaffiliated voters and those both certain or likely to vote in November. Women represented 53 percent of those polled.
Harris, a Baptist pastor, holds an edge with men and with white voters in the poll.
The poll was being conducted at the same time as news stories broke about a 2013 sermon Harris gave concerning the role of women.
"In our culture today, girls are taught from grade school . . . that what is most honorable in life is a career, and their ultimate goal in life is simply to be able to grow up and be independent of anyone or anything," said Harris, who was then the pastor at Charlotte's First Baptist Church.
"But nobody has seemed to ask the question that I think is critically important to ask: Is that a healthy pursuit for society? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our homes? . . . Is that the healthiest pursuit for the sexes in our generation?"
McCready seized on the reports about the comments, saying they showed Harris "is out of step with this district and this century."
"It seems that the story may have had some effect," Bryson said.
Democrats hope to retake the House of Representatives in November by winning suburban districts like the 9th — which stretches east from Charlotte to Fayetteville and Lumberton hugging the South Carolina border — and with candidates like McCready.
McCready raised more than $1.9 million through April 18, giving him an edge on Harris, who raised $572,000 in the same period, according to campaign finance reports.
The Cook Political Report considers the race "lean Republican."
It's not the first time a Civitas poll has showed Harris trailing in the district. In March, a Civitas poll in the district showed Pittenger with a 32-point lead over his challenger, but Harris edged Pittenger by 828 votes in the May primary.