Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Elections of March: Can Jay White Knock Out Fellow Republican Larry Pittman in NCH83?

The Republican primary in North Carolina House District 83 offers a marquee contest between a Trumpian, unreconstructed, Southern Battle War flag-waving representative first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and a moderate, "united by our shared values" Republican attorney who clearly sees the incumbent as an embarrassment to the district, the state, and the party. Awaiting whomever wins this primary will be Democrat Gail Young, who also ran in 2018 and who's been building her own campaign for months. (Disclosure: I've contributed to Gail Young.)

Jay White
Insurgent Republican lawyer and former Cabarrus County Commissioner Jay White ran a primary race against Rep. Larry Pittman once before, in 2012, in Pittman's first reelection campaign, and came within 244 votes of beating him. The Reverend Pittman, a Presbyterian minister trained as a Baptist, had already made a name for himself in the General Assembly as an acid-spewing conservative and theocrat willing to call down fire and brimstone on his political enemies. Approaching that election in 2012, Pittman said of Planned Parenthood that it "deals out nothing but deception, death, personal devastation, and moral degradation. Never will I agree to give that bloody, indecent, immoral organization one penny. I will not be satisfied until it is outlawed."

That comment is wholly characteristic of a state representative who also condemns LGBTQ people to hell and considers Abraham Lincoln a mere 19th-century Hitler (presumably for freeing the slaves) and who is happy to hang out with white supremacists.

Jay White's website is a studied contrast to Mr. Pittman. Nowhere does White mention Donald Trump as the leader of the GOP nor does he praise the Republican leadership in the General Assembly in Raleigh. He wants to be seen as a nice guy, words not generally applied to Pittman nor to the overlords in the General Assembly. White repeats the words shared values like he's rubbing salve into wounds: "The people of the 83rd District are my friends, you are my family. Together, united by our shared values, we can make Cabarrus County and North Carolina a better place for ourselves and our children. For too long, the 83rd District has lacked an effective voice in Raleigh. We need an experienced leader who will find solutions and deliver results."

The recent track record of moderate Republicans trying to take out far-right conservatives in North Carolina primaries does not suggest that Jay White can prevail on March 3rd. I'm thinking of moderate Republican Beth Monaghan's attempt to beat Dan Bishop in NCS39 in 2018 and of moderate Republican Holly Grange's attempt to overcome Dan Forest in the primary for governor this year. Like the others, Jay White is obviously hoping that Pittman has maybe embarrassed the people one time too many, but Republican primary voters are pretty un-embarrassable.

Gail Young
Frankly, it'll be better for Democrat Gail Young if Jay White doesn't prevail. The district is rated by Michael Bitzer as "Lean Republican," with Republican voter registration five percentage points higher than Democratic registration (35% to 30%). The balance of power obviously lies with the 34% of the voters registered Unaffiliated, the group that is often willing to punish extremism. Plus the district may be trending away from Pittman's brand of politics. Michael Bitzer rates it a high suburban concentration as District 83 abuts directly on urban Mecklenburg County to the north. Real Facts NC considers the district one of the most competitive in the state, but I think that depends on whether Pittman survives his primary.

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