- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The thinnest of margins was keeping Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger from losing his seat as his challenger pledged Wednesday to continue fighting in one of two congressional primaries that were too close to call.

Pittenger led Mark Harris, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, by about 140 votes a day after the primary election, according to state data. If Pittenger doesn’t hold on, he’d become the second incumbent to lose in a topsy-turvy primary following court-ordered redistricting.

To the north, a similar margin separated the leader in the 13th District’s Democratic primary, Bruce Davis, from Bob Isner. Isner was waiting on more complete vote tallies, but didn’t plan to seek a recount unless totals changed dramatically.

Pittenger and Harris were separated by less than 1 percent of total votes cast, a margin that would allow Harris to demand a recount under state law. County election officials have until Tuesday to finish their tallies of provisional and absentee ballots.

Harris campaign manager Mark Knoop said the campaign plans to seek a recount, and he believes hundreds of absentee and provisional ballots may be outstanding.

He noted about 65 percent of the ballots in the three-way primary went against Pittenger, saying: “That is a resounding call for new leadership.”

Pittenger said in an interview that Harris can seek a recount if he chooses, but that today’s high-tech voting equipment usually prevents significant changes in the results. Recent North Carolina history has few instances of the election night outcome being flipped during a recount.

February’s redistricting took Pittenger’s largely affluent Charlotte-area district that he first won in 2012 and moved it east toward poorer counties along the South Carolina border. Lawmakers were forced to quickly redraw the map of 13 districts after a federal court found that two were illegally race-based.

“There are folks who knew nothing about me,” said Pittenger, pointing out his rivals had months to campaign in counties brought into the district. “When the folks out east get to know me better, I’ll have even better results out there.”

The winner will take on Democrat Christian Cano in November.

State Board of Elections general counsel Josh Lawson said local officials will finish their counts on Tuesday, and requests for recounts are due by noon Thursday.

A one-time change in state law eliminated runoffs in the congressional primaries this year.

Pittenger is hoping to avoid the fate of Renee Ellmers, who was ousted from the redrawn 2nd District by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding.

Redistricting also moved the 13th to an area stretching from the outskirts of Charlotte to Greensboro, and effectively left it without an incumbent.

Five Democrats sought the nomination, and Davis wound up ahead by about 100 votes - or less than 1 percent of the votes cast, state data shows.

Isner said Wednesday that he called to congratulate Davis but stopped short of conceding. He said it would take a dramatic change for him to ask for a recount.

“If it stayed in the same margin, I would not ask for a recount,” he said.

Asked to compare their race to the more contentious, but also razor-thin 9th GOP primary, Davis said: “Bob ran a good clean campaign, and so did we, and so maybe that’s why we’re able to communicate.”

The winner will face Republican nominee Ted Budd in November.



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