NC congressional candidate Pat Harrigan looks to win back Charlotte Republicans
North Carolina’s new 14th congressional district in Gaston and Mecklenburg counties looks solidly blue.
Joe Biden won it by more than 16 percentage points in 2020. Cal Cunningham beat Thom Tillis by nearly 11 points in that year’s U.S. Senate race.
But Republicans say that poor showing was a response to the Trump presidency.
“(Republicans) were initially writing it off in favor of the Democrats because they looked at the former president’s performance in the 2020 election and said this is not winnable for a Republican,” said Harrigan, who easily defeated Jonathan Simpson in last week’s Republican primary in the 14th.
The 14th District includes most of Gaston County and half of Mecklenburg County, including Charlotte’s heavily Democratic west side and affluent neighborhoods in south Charlotte. If you go back more than a decade, many of those precincts weren’t blue. They routinely went for Republicans by 20 percentage points.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this district had a problem with President Trump,” Harrigan said. “It does not have a resistance to electing a Republican.”
Harrigan, a 35-year-old Hickory resident, lives outside the district. But North Carolina law does not require candidates to live in the congressional district they want to represent. He said he’s been spending most of his time during the campaign at a South Park apartment. He said he will move his family to the 14th if he wins.
While in the Army, Harrigan served in Afghanistan. He owns a business in Burke County called ZROdelta that manufactures handguns and semiautomatic assault-style rifles.
The main reason he’s running, he said, is last summer’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“When it went downhill the way that it did in such a way that was embarrassing and didn’t need to happen,” Harrigan said. “I mean, truly I believe it was criminal."
Harrigan agrees that the war needed to end: "It just didn't need to end the way that it ended."
He said the withdrawal led to Russian President Vladimir Putin deciding to invade Ukraine.
“After we left Afghanistan the way that we left, I think, and I believe with all of my being, that he took stock of our weakness and said we will not do anything about this,” Harrigan said.
Jackson also served in Afghanistan. He was there in the Army National Guard, where he is still a member.
Jackson ran for U.S. Senate before dropping out of the race in December, clearing the path for former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.
When the North Carolina Supreme Court created a second Democratic-leaning congressional seat in the Charlotte area, Jackson jumped in the race. No other prominent Democrat challenged him.
Harrigan said he will tie Jackson to the unpopularity of Democrats nationally.
“We are going to put Jeff Jackson on his heels, making him defend the failed policies of President Biden and his administration,” Harrigan said.
But Jackson has his own advantages.
For starters, he is a fundraising machine. He has more than $850,000 cash on hand compared with Harrigan’s $100,000.
And there are two issues that may keep former Republican voters on his side.
The first is abortion.
Jackson campaigns on abortion rights. After the leak of a draft of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Jackson quickly posted a video on Twitter that was seen more than 12,000 times.
Harrigan supports overturning Roe v. Wade and said the issue should be left to the states. His campaign says he supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
And the other issue may be guns.
Jackson’s campaign said that Harrigan is “running on the Trump agenda, and he manufactures assault weapons for a living.”
The campaign said Harrigan won’t appeal to voters who aren’t part of the GOP base and that “he can’t win that way in this district.”
Harrigan said he is not tied to the former president.
“Look, I don’t have an endorsement from President Trump, and the reason is I am not seeking one,” he said. “I am my own man. I agree with a lot of President Trump’s policies. I live my life and I behave in a very different manner than the former president.”
One part of Harrigan’s platform is election security.
In an interview with WFAE, Harrigan was asked about his push for a photo ID requirement for voters as well as whether Biden was the legitimate winner in 2020.
Harrigan started his answer by saying he doesn’t base his opinion on what pundits say. He said he does his own research.
“And sad to say, I think we all know there is opportunity fraud within our election system and we have to have to do everything within our power to fix that,” he said.
He said photo ID is needed, he wants to make sure all electronic machines have a paper record of a vote and that automatic signature-matching technology should be used for mail ballots.
When asked about whether Biden is the legitimate winner, Harrigan said yes.
“I think it’s clear Biden won the 2020 election,” he said.
Whoever wins the race, their time in office may be short-lived.
If the Republicans win a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court, they may redraw the state’s congressional map. It’s expected that 14th District would change dramatically in that case, becoming much more friendly to Republicans.