When I got home from work the other day, I found a political flyer on my door.
The full-color leaflet concerned a legislative race in the Oklahoma House district where I live. I don't have the shiny paper handy, but what I remember is: The candidate touts herself as a pastor's daughter and a devoted Christian. Apparently, that kind of thing matters where I live. (Smile.)
Unrelated side note: The woman running for the seat wrote a personal note to our family and said she was sorry she missed us. That'll probably stick with me longer than the mailer itself.
But anyway ...
I bring up the above little anecdote because of an interesting story (to say the least) in the Charlotte Observer this week.
When I first printed out the piece to read, this was the headline:
Rep. Robert Pittenger airs new ad featuring Jesus Christ
But now there's a new headline, and yes, I'd say this one better nails my question about this U.S. House race:
How did Jesus Christ become an issue in this NC primary?
The lede provides the basic facts:
Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who faces a Baptist minister in next year’s primary, is airing a new TV ad urging people to put “Christ back in Christmas.”
“I’ve dedicated my life to sharing God’s love through Jesus Christ,” Pittenger says, standing in front of a Christmas tree and fireplace. “Let’s end political correctness and put the true meaning of Christ back in Christmas.”
Pittenger faces a primary rematch with Rev. Mark Harris, former pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church. He beat Harris by 134 votes in last year’s 9th District GOP primary.
While Pittenger has invoked religion in campaigns before, it’s unusual for any candidate to make such a direct religious appeal.
But in 2016, Harris tapped his evangelical base in winning the support of many primary voters. He won two of the district’s eight counties and finished second to a third candidate, Todd Johnson, in five others. Pittenger won the primary thanks to his support in Mecklenburg County.
In last year’s contest, Pittenger aired an ad on WBT-AM and on Christian radio stations touting his “deep Christian faith” and his record as “a conservative standing up for pro-family values.”
Pittenger’s latest ad comes a month before Christmas and six months before the May primary.
Keep reading, and readers learn that Harris has strong credentials in North Carolina's Baptist community:
Harris spokesman Andy Yates said don’t expect Harris, a former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, to run ads emphasizing his faith. As head of the Baptist group, Harris was a high-profile leader in the 2012 campaign to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This month former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, himself a former Baptist minister, came to Charlotte to campaign for Harris.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have to run a TV ad to say ‘Mark Harris is a Christian’ or to remind people that he believes Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ,” Yates said.
Obviously, Huckabee is a strong supporter of President Trump.
But then again, so is the Rev. Franklin Graham, whom the Observer mentions in connection with Pittenger.
Based on this story alone, readers know this: Jesus is extremely important in this House race, and both these candidates are stressing their Christian faith.
However, as an outsider reading this North Carolina story on my computer screen in Oklahoma, I was left wondering exactly where the candidates differ: What really is the dividing point here? Why is Harris running against Pittenger?
Undoubtedly, folks on the ground in the Tar Heel State have a better understanding of the true dynamics at play. A bit of quick Googling indicates that perhaps this is a case of a Steve Bannon-approved challenger rising up against an incumbent who has been less than 100 percent supportive of Trump.
Any GetReligion readers in North Carolina got the inside scoop? If so, please don't hesitate to educate me in the comments section.