In the race to become the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger narrowly won Tuesday’s primary – at least based on still-unofficial vote totals – by capturing nearly half the vote in Mecklenburg County. It’s an area he’s represented in Congress for four years.
But the congressman from Charlotte was not able to expand his reach into the newer more eastern parts of the recently redrawn district. In fact, he trailed his two challengers in each of the other seven counties in the 9th. His worst showing: 7 percent in Bladen County.
Pittenger’s margin of victory over the Rev. Mark Harris was so slight, at 142 votes, that Harris plans to formally request a recount – one that could possibly result in a new winner.
“That is a tighter number than a lot of incumbents would want as a cushion,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury. “It’s too early to say how it will turn out, but I would not be surprised if it ended up going either way – for Pittenger or Harris.”
What could complicate the picture is that there are still votes that were not part of the unofficial totals posted Tuesday night on the N.C. State Board of Elections website.
Vote tallies won’t become final until Tuesday when county boards of elections canvass their votes. Before then, more votes could come in and be counted, said Josh Lawson, general counsel to the State Board of Elections. They include:
▪ Absentee ballots cast and postmarked as of Tuesday this week can be received up to three days after the election.
▪ Military or overseas absentee ballots can be received up to the day before the county canvasses.
▪ Provisional ballots cast Tuesday by voters who have allowable photo IDs but neglected to bring them could be counted up to the day before the canvasses.
Even after all that, Lawson said, the totals from the county canvasses “could become less than final” if a recount turns up different numbers.
As of Wednesday, the counties in the 9th Congressional District had reported 141 Republican and unaffiliated provisional ballots that have not been counted. That number could go up or down in the days ahead, Lawson said.
Candidates trailing in close races are legally entitled to a recount if the margin between them and the unofficial vote leader is 1 percent or less. The deadline to ask for one is noon June 16.
In results posted Tuesday night, Pittenger had 9,268 votes – or 34.96 percent. Harris had 9,126 votes – or 34.42 percent.
Another challenger, former Union County commissioner Todd Johnson, had 8,118 votes – or 30.62 percent.
Struggling in Union
Pittenger won 42 of the 50 Mecklenburg precincts in District 9, including the affluent areas in south Charlotte.
Pittenger’s biggest wins came at Precincts 86 (Carmel Middle School), 71 (Sharon Elementary School) and 32 (Christ Episcopal Church) – on the Providence Road corridor. There he captured more than 62 percent of the vote.
Harris, meanwhile, took seven precincts in eastern Mecklenburg. His biggest wins came near Interstate 485 and Mint Hill, where he took more than 47 percent of the vote, data show.
Harris fared even stronger in neighboring western Union County, where he won 12 precincts and 46 percent of the vote. Pittenger, on the other hand, won just 27 percent in that area.
Pittenger also struggled through much of central Union County, areas largely won by Johnson. The congressman got less than 20 percent of votes in 15 Union precincts, data show.
Pittenger fared worst in Precinct 43 near Monroe, where he won just 12.5 percent of the votes.
In the newly redrawn district, Union’s population makes up the biggest slice, at 28 percent. Mecklenburg is close behind, at 25 percent.
Harris carried two counties in the district: Robeson and Cumberland. And Johnson carried Union as well as four sparsely populated rural counties.
Bitzer said the Tuesday results in the GOP primary offer a clear picture of the current makeup of the Republican Party.
Pittenger, whose background is in business, did best among what Bitzer called “the Main Street and country club Republicans.”
Harris, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, won in suburbs where “the socially conservative evangelical Christian faction” is dominant, Bitzer said.
And Johnson, who grew up in Anson County and owns an insurance company near Monroe, was most popular with voters in “the very rural, very conservative” parts of the district, Bitzer said.
Back in Washington
By Wednesday morning, Pittenger was back in Washington, presiding over a hearing on terrorism financing. He and a few of his House colleagues probed three witnesses on efforts by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups to raise funds in South America.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, congratulated Pittenger for winning the North Carolina primary.
Pittenger looked over with a smile and bobbed his head in affirmation.
Eleanor Mueller of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.