North Carolina congressional race heats up, with GOP seat in play

Democrat Christian Cano may be better known for wearing a cowboy hat than for his political experience. But the hotel consultant hopes to unseat second-term North Carolina Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger – and is getting a potential boost from the redrawing of the incumbent’s 9th Congressional District.

That district now stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville.

Susan Roberts, a political science professor at Davidson College, said the incumbent now “has a lot of counties where people don’t know much about him.”

“So, if they only know about the headlines, they’re probably not going to have as positive a view. He won’t have been able to do constituency service, which usually helps incumbents,” she said.

Earlier this fall, Pittenger had to walk back comments he made during a Sept. 22 interview with the BBC.

When asked about violent protests following a fatal police shooting in Charlotte, Pittenger told a BBC presenter, “The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”

Pittenger has since apologized for the way the comments came out, but insists he was trying to paraphrase what he heard a protester say on TV.

“It’s one of those comments that I could have said much different and regret the way I said it,” Pittenger told Fox News. “But, frankly, I was repeating what another individual said.”

Cano, who wears a cowboy hat in honor of his World War II veteran grandfather, may personify some of the challenges Pittenger faces. A Latino member of the LGBT community, he’s running as a voice for change in a more diverse district.

“Those of us who have worked in the real world, and worked with diverse people, know that the more diverse we are, the stronger we are and the more competitive we are,” Cano said.

Pittenger is also running on a change platform — calling for a break from ObamaCare and other government mandates on business.

“We could be doing better in terms of growing this economy,” Pittenger said. “We need to reduce the regulatory burden on small business. We need to reduce the regulatory burden on small financial  institutions.”

According to Federal Election Commission filings, Pittenger has spent approximately $1 million against his opponent, who is not nearly as well-funded.

Under ordinary circumstances, North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District would seem to be fairly safe for a Republican incumbent seeking reelection. But with redistricting and a volatile presidential race, this election is anything but ordinary.

Fox News’ David Lewkowict contributed to this report.