Incumbents are typically favored in American elections, but that didn’t save GOP politician Rep. Robert Pittenger from his primary challenger, the anti-gay pastor Mark Harris (below), last night.
The surprise upset puts Harris, who helped lead the fight to ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina, against Democrat and Marine Corps veteran Dan McCready. It also puts a somewhat reliable Republican seat into a toss-up.
Harris had previously challenged Pittenger in 2016, but Pittenger won out by just over 100 votes.
Harris, a conservative former senior pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, won the contentious Republican primary in North Carolina’s Ninth District, in what was a rematch of a close 2016 race.
Two years ago, Pittenger managed to hold on to the district by just over 130 votes. Despite some early favorable polling, the North Carolina Republican, who has served in the House since 2013, wasn’t able to hold on to the district again.
His loss is a story of both North Carolina’s heavy gerrymandering and the tensions between the establishment Republican Party and more conservative base.
Gerrymandering is a factor here, but it’s hard to deny that the win for Harris is also a win for fringe groups within the anti-establishment Right. Harris isn’t just a pastor; he is a fiercely anti-LGBTQ activist known for opposing civil rights and claiming that being gay is a choice.
He is best known as a point man for a state amendment to ban same-sex marriages that was ultimately found unconstitutional.
More recently, he led forces to repeal protections in Charlotte for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Harris’ state amendment to ban gay marriage was ultimately invalidated, but he has been successful in his other anti-equality efforts. And, if he wins the general election against McCready, he would have even more power to strip the LGBTQ community of their rights and protections.
Let’s hope that this victory for an ultraconservative voice in North Carolina is ultimately a win for reasonable people in the general election. If Democrats and independent voters want to steer clear of this bigotry, they have the opportunity to make things a little bit better for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
(Screenshot via Right Wing Watch)