CHARLOTTE — The Rev. Mark Harris was leading U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary with many precincts still unreported.
The GOP winner will face Democrat Dan McCready who held the lion’s share of the Democratic vote for District 9.
The November race for Pittenger’s seat is expected to be one of the most competitive races in the nation.
The General Election ballot will also include Libertarian Jeff Scott, who ran unopposed.
Harris, a longtime state Southern Baptist leader who lost to Pittenger in the 2016 primary by only 135 voters, managed to out poll the congressman and Fayetteville banker Clarence Goins on Tuesday.
At press time, Harris had 48.75 percent of the vote to Pittenger’s 45.84 percent with 188 of 210 precincts reporting.
Harris carried Scotland County with 383 votes, while Pittenger got 367 votes and Goins received 43 votes, according to unofficial results.
The GOP race focused on the Christian conservative credentials and which candidate is more closely aligned with Trump.
Harris, 52, ran a campaign that said Republicans expected more from Pittenger and the GOP-controlled Congress. He criticized the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president.
“I believe Republicans are saying it’s time to act like Republicans,” he said. “We blamed Democrats for increasing the debt. … Now we keep spending, spending, spending and we do not cut.”
He said the national debt, $16 trillion when Pittenger went to Congress in 2013, stands at $21 trillion.
Pittenger, 69, brought several national leaders into the district — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson — to help bolster his campaign.
Pittenger touted tax cuts, economic growth, a massive defense spending bill and laws meant to help strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs as recent achievements. He also cited funding to support rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Matthew and a robust constituent services program aimed to help residents navigate the federal government to address complaints and concerns.
The 9th Congressional District comprises Scotland, Union, Anson, Richmond and Robeson counties, as well as parts of Mecklenburg, Cumberland and Bladen counties, has been held by a Republican for the past 55 years.
But the incumbent’s fundraising efforts lag behind political newcomer McCready, a 34-year-old former Marine turned solar power entrepreneur.
McCready, who made a brief campaign stop in Scotland County Tuesday, captured the bulk of Scotland voters with 76.5 percent of votes cast or 2,352 votes compared to Cano, who got 722 votes.
At press time McCready had captured 82.6 percent of the total district vote with 188 of 210 precincts reporting.
McCready said his experience as a Marine officer and an entrepreneur building solar farms across the state can help him spur economic growth in the district. He also proposed bringing greater federal investment into community colleges and a re-examination of how colleges can help people find new career opportunities.
“Too many politicians show up to Washington with good intentions, but then they forget who sent them there. They only fight for themselves and the special interests,” McCready said during a visit to Laurinburg last month. “I hope you’ll join this campaign to put country over party and turn our country around.”he said during a talk in Laurinburg last month.
But Cano, a 51-year-old former hospitality industry consultant, has questioned whether McCready is really a Democrat, referring to him as “Republican-light.”