“His chance to win was going to be through a grass-roots effort,” Mr. McCrory said.
Mr. Harris gained momentum among North Carolina’s conservative voters in 2012 when he championed an amendment to the state’s constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, a move that was later ruled unconstitutional and overturned in court.
“Mark was a man who was willing to be bold and step up on the front lines and talk about biblical values,” said Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, a group that works with pastors across the state.
In 2016, he supported House Bill 2, a controversial state law that, in addition to removing anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, required transgender people in public facilities to use the bathroom that corresponded with the sex stated on their birth certificate. That bill, too, was later repealed.
After a Charlotte police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, Mr. Harris went to the riots intending to defuse anger against the police, recalled his friend Leon Theatt, an African-American pastor in his district who joined him.
During this most recent election cycle, the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council ran social media ads for Mr. Harris, distributed voter guides and sent its Values Bus to make multiple stops in support of him, including at President Trump’s rally for Mr. Harris in October. One of their Facebook ads urging voters to support Mr. Harris showed a “liberal vigilante” tackling and threatening white men.
Some progressive Christians in the state are also angered by Mr. Harris’s policy focus.
“He claims to be following the Bible, but he says very little about what Jesus said about policy toward the poor, the sick,” Dr. Barber said. “He is aligned with others who have tried to convince America that a moral agenda is simply being against gay people, being against abortion, for prayer in school, being for tax cuts for the wealthy, and for guns.”