Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church, prays at a rally against LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances before a March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council meeting. Behind him stands anti-LGBT street preacher Flip Benham. Harris' predecessor, Charles Page, had also spoken out against similar protections debated and rejected by Charlotte City Council in 1992.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new poll from a right-leaning political group shows Democrat Dan McCready holding a seven-point lead over his Ninth Congressional District opponent, Republican and anti-LGBTQ pastor Mark Harris.

The poll was released Wednesday by the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. McCready’s seven-point lead is greater than the poll’s nearly five-point margin of error.

“Republicans should be concerned,” Civitas President Donald Bryson said in a release.

The Ninth Congressional District has been reliably Republican in past elections, usually carrying a seven-point advantage for GOP candidates. Going into the fall, McCready holds support from 43 percent of poll participants versus Harris’ 36 percent.

Harris’ radically conservative views have emboldened Democrats, who think they can push McCready to a victory by focusing on Harris’ more controversial opinions.

Democrats may be onto something.

“This poll went into the field on the same day a news story broke regarding a 2013 sermon by Rev. Harris on the role of women in the household,” Civitas’ Bryson said in the news release. “With women constituting 53 percent of the poll and breaking towards McCready by a 16-point margin, it seems that the story may have had some effect.”

Harris, the former pastor of First Baptist Church and former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, gave a sermon in 2013 in which he said careers and jobs outside of the home may not be the “healthiest pursuit” for women, instead pressuring them to keep to their “call” as wives and mothers.

“In our culture today, girls are taught from grade school . . . that what is most honorable in life is a career, and their ultimate goal in life is simply to be able to grow up and be independent of anyone or anything,” arris said in his sermon. “But nobody has seemed to ask the question that I think is critically important to ask: Is that a healthy pursuit for society? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our homes? . . . Is that the healthiest pursuit for the sexes in our generation?”

McCready latched onto the sermon and attacked Harris as being “out of step with this district and this century.”

Harris also has an extremist record on LGBTQ equality. Along with NC Values Coalition’s Tami Fitzgerald, Harris co-chaired the effort which successfully passed an anti-LGBTQ marriage amendment to the state’s constitution in 2012. That prohibition was later struck down and the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Harris was also a leading and outspoken opponent of Charlotte’s LGBTQ-inclusive public accommodations and other non-discrimination ordinances. He also pushed the state to adopt the notorious HB2, which pre-empted all local non-discrimination laws and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in event revenue and business investment.

After the amendment campaign, Harris ran in the 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, a seat ultimately won by former North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis. In 2016, Harris lost by a slim margin against the Ninth District’s incumbent, Robert Pittenger. This May, Harris finally defeated Pittenger in his second go-around.

Harris’ race in November may prove to be another tough race for him, with McCready leading in the polls and at the bank. McClatchy reports that McCready raised $1.9 million through April 18, with Harris raising only $572,000 during the same period.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.