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Immigration becomes big issue in GOP primary for departing Patrick McHenry's seat

The GOPAC Election Fund has a new commercial backing State Rep. Grey Mills against Pat Harrigan.
The GOPAC Election Fund has a new commercial backing State Rep. Grey Mills against Pat Harrigan.

A Virginia-based conservative political action committee is backing Republican Iredell state Rep. Grey Mills in North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District primary with an ad accusing his opponent, Pat Harrigan, of being soft on immigration.

The seat is held by Rep. Patrick McHenry, a prominent Republican and former interim speaker of the House who isn’t running for reelection.

The 10th District covers Lincoln, Catawba and Iredell counties and stretches northeast to include Winston-Salem.

GOPAC Election fund’s commercial says Mills is tough on illegal immigration and accuses Harrigan of being aligned with President Biden.

“He wants to reward Biden’s four million illegal immigrants with citizenship,” the ad says.

The ad quotes Harrigan from a 2022 interview with WFAE. In response to a question about undocumented immigrants brought as children, Harrigan, a firearms manufacturer, said he wasn’t opposed to helping them get citizenship.

But he added: “I do think it’s incredibly important that we have to gain control of the southern border and gain control of our immigration system first.”

Harrigan also said “there has to be a pathway to citizenship” and that countries that have rounded up and deported people are Russia, North Korea, China and Nazi Germany. He said the United States should not be in their company.

“This horse has left the stable on this topic,” Harrigan said. “The vast majority of immigrants that have come to this country and here because they are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families.”

Harrigan made the comments when he was running against Democrat Jeff Jackson for the 14th Congressional District. That seat — which has been redrawn — was heavily Democratic. Jackson won it easily.

Since then, the concerns about border security have increased significantly, especially among Republicans. It's become a top national issue and a focus for Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The winner of the March 5 GOP primary will be heavily favored in November in the 10th District.

While Mills and Harrigan are considered the frontrunners, Charles Eller, Diana Jimison, and Angelynn McGowan are also running.

The GOPAC Election Fund is backing seven Republicans nationwide. In addition to Mills, it’s also supporting House Speaker Tim Moore in the 14th District.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.