Newly elected to North Carolina’s 9th District is Republican Robert Pittenger, a real-estate business owner whose conservative values derive from a deep concern over the nation’s budget deficit. He defeated ex-Sheriff Jim Pendergraph and 10 other candidates in the GOP primary.
A Texas native, Pittenger’s father was a lawyer and real estate agent, and his mother stayed home with him and three siblings. While attending the University of Texas in Austin, Pittenger held three different jobs before graduating with degrees in psychology and political science. After graduation in 1970, he began working for Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical Christian organization based primarily on college campuses. In 1972, as a public-relations officer for the group, he helped to organize Explo, a weeklong conference that attracted nearly 100,000 high school and college students and became known as “The Christian Woodstock.”
Pittenger also trekked to Africa, Asia, and South America to promote Campus Crusade’s work. In the 1980s, Pittenger and his wife Suzanne continued their religious work, frequently through dinner parties for members of Congress. In an interview, Pittenger recalls the first one they gave. “We had 500 people in our backyard, and Joe Gibbs, the coach of the Washington Redskins who had just won the Super Bowl and gotten Coach of the Year, shared his Christian faith with us.”
In 1985, Pittenger and his wife moved to Charlotte, Suzanne’s hometown, to raise their family. Within four years, he started his own real-estate business and invested in specific undeveloped regions in the country that were prone to growth. Within 23 years, he grew the business to acquire holdings in Austin; Charleston, S.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh, N.C.; and San Antonio.
Encouraged by former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin, Pittenger ran for the state Senate in 2002 and won. On his first day in the Senate, he introduced legislation to reform medical-liability laws, and convinced 3,000 doctors from across the state to rally in support of it. However, the Democratic-controlled Senate proved challenging for the Republican, and his effectiveness was ranked by the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy as 49 out of 50 in 2007.
In 2008, Pittenger left the state Senate and launched an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. When Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., announced she would retire from the House at the end of 2012, Pittenger decided to run for her seat in the conservative-leaning 9th District.
Pittenger’s primary campaign was partially funded through his own personal fortune. After tying in a runoff with Pendergraph, Pittenger embarked on an all-out spending spree, pouring $324,000 into radio and television ads on a single day in April, nearly equaling the amount that Pendergraph spent on his entire campaign. The bruising primary was chiefly characterized by mudslinging. Pittenger accused Pendergaph of being a Democrat and Pendergraph supporters accused Pittenger of buying the election. They also highlighted Pittenger’s 2003 vote in the state Legislature on a land annexation that benefited his real-estate company. The issue was brought before an independent ethics committee in the Senate, but no charges resulted.
Pittenger won the primary with 53 percent of the vote to Pendergraph’s 47 percent. In the general election, Pittenger defeated Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts.
Jessica Miller contributed to this article.