In his first TV ad of the year, Rep. Robert Pittenger cast himself as one of President Donald Trump’s “strongest supporters” and accuses his Republican primary rival of trying to “stop Trump” in 2016.
Pittenger’s ad says Mark Harris “worked to stop Trump from being president. Now Harris opposes Trump’s military plan.”
Harris calls the ad misleading.
“I would almost have to borrow the phrase from Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter – there he goes again,” Harris said Monday.
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The two Charlotte Republicans are the main GOP candidates in the 9th District, which runs from southeast Charlotte to Fayetteville. In 2016, Pittenger beat Harris by 134 votes in the primary.
While Pittenger has embraced the president throughout the past year, he underscores that support in the ad by touting his support for the GOP tax cuts and other policies.
But the ad also targets Harris, who in 2016 first backed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and then Sen. Ted Cruz in the presidential primary.
Harris took issue in April 2016 when Trump told an interviewer that North Carolina didn’t need House Bill 2, the Republican-backed law known as “the bathroom bill.” The law required transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate, not the one they identified with.
“I agree with Donald Trump on many things, but on this, I strongly disagree,” Harris, a former Baptist pastor, said at the time. “I think that there is a lack of rational thinking and common sense when we think it would be OK for a person who is a biological male to go into a restroom with my 4-year-old granddaughter.”
But by the time of the 2016 Republican convention, Harris said he was on board with Trump. That fall he traveled to six swing states as part of an effort to rally conservative Christians to Trump.
Pittenger’s ad also hits Harris over his opposition to a recent spending bill that stopped a brief government shutdown while raising federal spending on the military and other programs.
Pittenger voted for the bill, which experts said could increase the federal deficit by $320 billion over 10 years while adding $2 trillion to the national debt. The measure was backed by Trump but opposed by many conservative Republicans.
Harris called the Bipartisan Budget Act “a massive spending bill further mortgaging the future of our kids and grand-kids.”
On Monday Harris criticized Pittenger strategist Paul Shumaker, who said in a news release that Harris “led the ‘Stop Trump’ campaign” before the GOP convention.
“There is no record whatsoever that I was part of a Stop Trump movement,” Harris said. “To say that I was part of a Stop Trump movement is ludicrous.”
The winner of the GOP primary will likely face Democrat Dan McCready, who has outraised both Republicans and has nearly $1 million on hand.
Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill