CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Democratic and Republican candidates for North Carolina’s 9th District Congressional seat are facing off for their first debate Wednesday night.
Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary for the 9th District seat in May.
Harris is running against Democrat Dan McCready, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and solar entrepreneur from Charlotte.
The debate was sponsored by The Charlotte Observer and WBTV.
The debate began with questions about domestic issues such as federal spending, social security, gun control, education and healthcare.
The debate also touched on subjects such as student loan debt, struggling rural areas in North Carolina, national anthem protests, immigration, war in Afghanistan, tariffs, refugees, President Trump, the Mueller investigation, support for house speakers and partisanship.
The entire debate lasted an hour. Harris and McCready delivered a lot of the same messages and political jabs that have already been viewed in campaign advertisements.
The two candidates wasted no time going on the offensive. The first round of political attacks came during the very first topic, the federal budget.
"The answer to solving our problem with our deficit is not to blow a $2 trillion hole in it, in the tax bill that Mark supports," said McCready.
Harris, however, had his own quip about the budget along with a jab against his opponent.
"I don't think that government/raising taxes is the answer as he and Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats seem to believe," argued the Republican Monday night.
McCready made it a strategy to hone in on key differences in political philosophy between he and Harris. Social Security was one topic where McCready made sure to differentiate himself from his opponent.
"This is an area where Mark and I are very different," said McCready. "I believe that Social Security and Medicare are rights that our seniors have paid into for decades and we need to do everything in our power to protect them," said McCready.
Harris was ready with an immediate response.
"I am highly offended by the fact that it would be said that I would cut Social Security and Medicare," said the Republican candidate. "I have always said that we have got to keep Social Security solvent. We've got to make sure that it is a promise made and a promise kept."
Several times during the debate Harris found ways to link McCready to Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pelosi could potentially become Speaker of the House once again.
"Dan McCready will either vote for Nancy Pelosi if she's the nominee or vote for the Republican," stated Harris during debate.
McCready then criticized Harris for his continued Pelosi remarks.
“I’m starting to think Mark, that you’re running against Nancy Pelosi. You’re running against Dan McCready,” said the Democratic candidate.
The candidates were asked about Eric Reid, the newly-signed Carolina Panthers safety who knelt for the anthem at Sunday’s home game vs the New York Giants to protest racism and injustice,
McCready said that as a veteran, he chooses to stand.
“At the same time, I’m a white guy. I’ve not faced discrimination,” McCready said. “I understand someone next to me may kneel, may do that because he or she doesn’t feel heard.”
Harris said that the flag and the anthem should be held sacrosanct, not used in protests.
“I think that what it really does is speak to the values we’ve lost in the culture,” said Harris. “The value of our United States of America is something that all Americans should appreciate, should honor and should respect.”
The 9th District stretches from southeast Charlotte to Fayetteville.
The Harris-McCready election has drawn intense interest, as President Donald Trump came to Charlotte in August to raise money for Harris.
The president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., came to Charlotte Tuesday and Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, visited Monday.