Elections

After tough primary, Pittenger wants Mark Harris to say, 'Hey, I'm sorry' to back him

Challenger Mark Harris stuns U.S. Rep. Pittenger of NC in GOP primary upset

Mark Harris is welcomed by supporters and goes on to claim victory over incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary for the N.C. 9th Congressional District seat.
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Mark Harris is welcomed by supporters and goes on to claim victory over incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary for the N.C. 9th Congressional District seat.

North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger has refused to endorse the man who beat him in this month's Republican primary, saying Mark Harris should apologize for his attack ads.

Pittenger, a three-term congressman who lost the May 8 primary by 828 votes, was asked on Spectrum News' Capital Tonight if he will support Harris.

“Well let’s take a look at that," Pittenger replied. "I just think that Mr. Harris ought to come out and say, 'Hey I'm sorry. I apologize for saying things that were not correct about my opponent, Robert Pittenger' .... You know he'll have to live with that. But I think it would warrant his coming out and saying, 'Hey, I went too far.'"

copy Pittenger (DC)
Rep. Robert Pittenger Jenna Eason jeason@charlotteobserver.com

A Harris spokesman said the campaign wants to give Pittenger "the space he needs" to deal with the loss.

But Pittenger's reluctance to support the GOP nominee in the 9th District suggests Republican divisions that could hurt the party in the fall election against Democrat Dan McCready.

The 9th District runs east from Charlotte through Union County to Fayetteville and Bladen County. Several analysts say while the district still tilts Republican, it's no longer the lock it once seemed to be. It's one of at least two N.C. districts Democrats are targeting in their hopes of retaking the U.S. House.

UNC Charlotte political scientist Eric Heberlig said Pittenger's reluctance to back Harris won't necessarily cost him votes, but could cost donations and support.

"My guess is for most Republicans it will be seen as sour grapes and won’t make a whole lot of difference," Heberlig said. "…. Republicans will vote for whoever the Republican nominee is. But whether they’ll invest their time or their money is where you’re likely to see the effects of a division."

Dan Barry, Republican chairman in Union County, doesn't believe divisions will linger.

"We have to remember that primaries can be bruising," he said. "When it's all over . . . I'm confident that the congressman will come around after the wounds have healed for the party and to prevent (Democratic Leader) Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker."

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Mark Harris John D. Simmons Observer file

Pittenger, who outspent Harris, objected to ads that suggested he supported Planned Parenthood, opposed President Donald Trump's border wall and backed sanctuary cities. Those criticisms came after Pittenger voted this year for a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, which was signed by Trump.

The attacks seemed to particularly bother Pittenger, who, as a state senator and candidate for Congress, has been through some rough and tumble campaigns. On the day after the primary, he sent supporters an email saying, "We were blindsided with these baseless attacks and clearly did not respond in an adequate manner."

"Why did Mark Harris’ attacks cross the line?" he said in an email Thursday. "I was the only candidate endorsed by National Right to Life. Vice President (Mike) Pence visited Charlotte and publicly thanked me for my commitment to the border wall ... Just days before the election, national media was reporting on my legislation to defund sanctuary cities and use the money to build the wall."

Harris strategist Andy Yates said they hope Pittenger comes on board.

“Our intention is to give Congressman Pittenger the space he needs to come to terms with the outcome of the race," Yates said. "As Dr. Harris said on election night, we thank Congressman Pittenger for his willingness to step forward and serve and for what he’s been able to accomplish during three terms.

"Certainly there's no ill will on our part of anyone."

Pittenger aides say Harris declined to publicly endorse Pittenger after he lost to him by 134 votes in the 2016 primary.

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill
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