LAURINBURG — Rampant federal spending, slipping social values, and weak defense policy are evidence to Mark Harris of a “vacuum of leadership” in Washington, D.C.
He hopes to reverse that vacuum if elected to represent North Carolina’s 9th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Harris, senior pastor at The First Baptist Church of Charlotte, threaded a narrative from the book of Nehemiah through a speech he delivered on Wednesday to a dozen local ministers of the Pee Dee Baptist Association over lunch at the Main Table.
“I think that the vision Nehemiah was given is exactly the vision that’s needed for this nation,” said Harris. “Help them see the distress that we’re in, help them recognize the emergency…. I don’t have to tell you, probably, that we’re at a critical point in our nation today.”
Harris is one of three Republican candidates who will appear on the ballot in the June 7 congressional primary, along with he faces incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte and Union County insurance salesman Todd Johnson. Democratic candidate Christian Cano, a Charlotte hospitality consultant, is running unopposed within his party and will advance to the November election.
Federal judges ruled earlier this year that North Carolina’s 1st and 12th congressional districts were racially gerrymandered, prompting state lawmakers to overhaul all congressional districts statewide. The redrawn 9th District includes part of Mecklenburg County, where Harris lives, along with Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties and parts of Cumberland and Bladen counties.
“This is not the same district that the so-called incumbent represents,” said Harris. “This is a different district; it’s obvious that this is a much poorer district. My values, I think match up better with the people that make up the 9th District now.”
Harris attacked Pittenger for voting for a budget that provided funding for Planned Parenthood and raised the federal debt ceiling, and said that his own background as a minister qualifies him to better serve the new 9th district.
“I believe that 30 years in ministry, of working with people from various backgrounds, various circumstances, various socioeconomic situations, and bringing them together for a greater purpose enables me to be more qualified to represent this district.”
In 2014, Harris mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, finishing third in an eight-candidate field behind Thom Tillis, who went on to defeat Kay Hagan in November, and runner-up Greg Brannon.
He is running for the U.S. House of Representatives as a fiscal and social conservative with a hard line on national defense.
“We’ve got to understand from our worldview that you can’t spend more than you take in,” he said. “You can’t do it in your house, I can’t do it in my house, and we would expect that the federal government ought to have to live under the same rules.”
Harris is also a supporter of House Bill 2, the controversial state law passed last month that limits restroom access based on users’ gender at birth and rewrites North Carolina’s nondiscrimination policies. He was a leader of the group Don’t Do It Charlotte, which lobbied against the Charlotte City Council’s passage of an ordinance allowing transgender individuals to use the restrooms matching their gender identity.
With low public awareness of the upcoming congressional primary, Harris expects low voter turnout and a slim margin of victory for the Republican nominee.
“The Sunday morning attendance of the churches represented in this room right now could very well decide the outcome of this election,” he said.
Harris’ political career is inspired by his father, “the epitome of an overcomer,” who grew up in a Methodist children’s home in Winston-Salem and flew in World War II. After his plane went down over the Netherlands during his ninth mission, he spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the Nazis.
“Your generation was the Greatest Generation because you guys, you saw America from the 30,000-foot view,” Harris told his father when he announced his decision to run for Senate in 2014. “My generation, we’re the ones who have dropped the ball. We’re the ones who have let the nation down.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has himself served as a Baptist preacher, has endorsed Harris and will be appearing with him today in Monroe.
Reach Mary Katherine Murphy at 910-276-2311