Perhaps Mark Harris should have been the favorite in the 9th Congressional District to begin with.
The county-by-county results show clearly why the Charlotte pastor scored the upset victory over U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger for the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary.
It all comes down to the third candidate in the race this year compared with 2016.
Now take a look at the 2016 results. See the big difference?
Harris lost the primary two years ago by a mere 134 votes. That narrative dominated the conversation this go-round, and the impact of Todd Johnson was all but overlooked.
Here’s the background: The 9th Congressional District spans eight different counties — but the race is won in Mecklenburg and Union. They each bring around 12,000 votes to the table in the Republican primary, where none of the other counties tally even 2,000.
That’s why the two top candidates the last two cycles have come from Charlotte.
Pittenger won handily in Mecklenburg County both in 2016 and in 2018.
It was Union County that made the difference both years.
Two years ago, Johnson was an actual serious third challenger for the seat. He had served on the Union County Board of Commissioners and was well-regarded in his home county.
That shows in the Union County results from 2016. Johnson dominated.
But look who was a strong second in Union County in 2016. That translated over to 2018. Harris crushed Pittenger in Union County, which actually brought in more Republican votes than the larger Mecklenburg County this past year.
Pittenger was undoubtedly a stronger candidate in 2018. He was no longer facing investigation by the FBI, he had the support of Vice President Mike Pence and the advantage of two more years of incumbency.
But Union County had always liked Harris better, and they got a chance to show it this week.
Homepage photo of Mark Harris via Facebook.