Politics has always been interesting to me, and I have always tried to be well informed about the way our government works and how politics affects nearly every aspect of American life. Now that I am retired I have more free time to study the subject, usually by reading for a few hours every day, as I much prefer that to television. Nearly every day I learn something about the issues affecting our current political climate.
In my last column I wrote about the First Amendment and the role it plays in protecting American citizens from governmental interference in our personal decision of whether or not to practice a religion and how we are allowed to put that choice into action. It is important to be reminded of those protections, particularly when religion is becoming increasingly entwined with politics.
Religion has always played a part in American politics. I remember hearing disparaging remarks about President John F. Kennedy being Catholic when I was a little girl, and I heard similar comments about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith in 2008 and 2012. The role of religion in politics has also been magnified by the issues of abortion and gay rights, along with the emergence of self-described religious politicians like Vice President Mike Pence and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
NBC News recently featured a story called “Defining the Battle Lines of the GOP’s Civil War” that focused on the rising role of religion in the Republican Party. Republicans interviewed said that voters sense that a conservative revolution has arrived, and they relish the thought of overthrowing the Washington establishment and remaking the party in their own faith-driven image. Others expressed hope that Republicans will do what they always do, fall back in line for the good of the party, leaving room for the less religious but more affluent Republicans who have dominated the party.
I believe this issue is about to take center stage in our own area because of the District 9 Congressional race. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte holds the seat and will again be challenged in the Republican primary by Dr. Mark Harris, a recently retired Baptist minister who is also from Charlotte. Pittenger barely won the primary over Harris in 2016, winning by 134 votes out of nearly 27,000 votes cast in a three-way race.
The two Democratic candidates, Christian Cano and Dan McCready, are also from Charlotte. Cano was unopposed in the 2016 primary and lost the general election to Pittenger by a margin of 58 to 42 percent. This will be McCready’s first try for national office.
Harris and McCready are North Carolina natives; Cano and Pittenger were raised in Texas and moved to North Carolina as adults. That will no doubt be mentioned many times during the election season, and we can also expect all of the candidates to tout their patriotism and Christian faiths. Religious tenets will probably be mentioned much more in the Republican primary as a result of Harris’ long career as an evangelical preacher. Pittenger will be portrayed as the more establishment Republican candidate. Cano will be labeled as extremely liberal, and McCready will be called a DINO (Democrat In Name Only).
One thing certain to focus national attention on our local congressional race is the recent entrance of two national Republican political personalities into the fight. Karl Rove, top advisor to President George W. Bush, has endorsed Pittenger and recently appeared in Charlotte for a Pittenger fundraiser. Steve Bannon, former chief advisor to Donald Trump, is backing Harris.
The primary race made national headlines recently when Karl Rove criticized Steve Bannon in the Wall Street Journal for his involvement in Republican primaries. By that afternoon, Bannon and his allies were already plotting their revenge and their first move was to mobilize against Pittenger. Bannon has reportedly said that defeating Pittenger has become his “No. 1 priority.”
Pittenger has said he is not concerned about Brannon’s opposition and boasts that he has supported the Trump agenda over 96 percent of the time. More problematic for him are the recent rumors that another powerful N.C. Republican congressman who is Brannon’s friend, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, might endorse Harris instead of Pittenger.
Donald Trump has made no public comment on the race as of yet, although he has pledged his support to candidates in a few other races. He was reportedly upset that he endorsed the losing candidate in the Alabama race, and many political observers doubt that Trump will oppose Brannon’s choice and risk backing another loser.
The next few months are bound to be very interesting in area politics, and most particularly in our very own District 9 congressional race. That means a lot of national media attention and probably lots of money from outside the district pouring into what promises to be a very expensive campaign for all of candidates. Early estimates are that the winning candidate will spend at least $3 million on his campaign.
Political pundits are predicting close races in both the Republican primary and the General Election. That means that every vote is important, and that our area will receive more attention in a state election than we usually do. It should be a good chance for us to have a voice that is actually heard by the candidates. We need to take full advantage of that opportunity.
Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.