Concerned Women for America, a D.C.-based conservative Christian nonprofit, has jumped into North Carolina's competitive Republican primary for U.S. Senate, endorsing Rev. Mark Harris, a Baptist preacher. Harris is vying against several other candidates for the chance to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).
“Mark Harris possesses valuable experience and the leadership needed in Congress,” Penny Nance, the group's CEO, said in a press release. “Dr. Harris is a pro-life, pro-family conservative who will lead on critical issues from the moment he arrives in Washington.”
Harris said he was "honored" to receive the group's endorsement, and praised its leaders in a statement.
“I have long followed Beverly LaHaye and the outstanding leadership she has demonstrated in her work with the Concerned Women for America organization,” Harris said in the release. “It is my privilege to receive this endorsement from Beverly LaHaye and Penny Nance as they have served as a voice to our Nation for the conservative principles that we cherish in this Country."
CWA, which calls itself "the nation's largest public policy women's organization," opposes abortion, contraception coverage and same-sex marriage.
In 2012, the group ran $6 million in ads in battleground states warning that the Affordable Care Act might limit patient care and increase the federal deficit.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified CWA as a hate group, citing various anti-LGBT statements its founder, Beverly LaHaye, has made. LaHaye has equated homosexuality with pedophilia and has accused "homosexual activists" of fabricating hate crime reports.
One of the group's former presidents, Wendy Wright, said in 2010 that LGBT activists were using same-sex marriage “to indoctrinate children in schools to reject their parents’ values and to harass, sue and punish people who disagree.” CWA has also claimed that feminism has been “taken over by lesbians."
“The first big endorsement of the Republican Senate primary is in,” Ben Ray, a spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party, told The Huffington Post. “Unfortunately for North Carolina women, Mark Harris’ allies at CWA have a long, dangerous track record on women and families that include extreme positions like attacking women that work outside the home, linking birth control with sexually transmitted diseases, and opposing abortion coverage for military rape victims. North Carolina women and families deserve better than this sort of destructive, fringe agenda.”
Harris was a leader of the successful movement to pass North Carolina's Amendment One in 2012, which amended the state's constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
His latest campaign hire is Anna Beavon Gravely, who previously worked for the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers. The group recently launched a $2.5 million television ad campaign targeting three senators, including Hagan, attempting to tie her to President Barack Obama's remark that under Obamacare, "If you like your plan, you can keep it."
Hagan was endorsed in her last Senate campaign by EMILY's List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to Congress.
HuffPost Pollster's average, which combines all publicly availably polling data, shows state House Speaker Thom Tillis leading the crowded primary field with 16.2 percent. Harris is currently in second place, trailing Tillis by 3 percentage points.
Rob Christensen, a top political journalist and analyst in the state, has predicted that neither Tillis nor Harris will emerge from the May 6 primary with the 40 percent of the vote needed to capture the nomination outright, but that Tillis would win the runoff, tentatively scheduled for July 15.