North Carolina's Congressional races are becoming more and more interesting by the day. Two of them are shaping up to be particularly interesting. First there is the well-publicized story in District 8 of Tim D'Annunzio, the Tea Party backed candidate, against Harold Johnson, the GOP backed candidate. D'Annunzio and Johnson are headed for a run-off race on June 22 for the GOP nomination, having failed to capture at least 40% of the votes required. The seat is currently held by Larry Kissell, a Democrat, who won it from the five-term incumbent, Robin Hayes, in 2008. Then there is the race in District 7 between Ilario Pantano, the first Marine to be heard on a charge of pre-meditated murder in Iraq, and Mike McIntyre, a Blue Dog Democratic incumbent. Pantano's GOP competitors have come out publicly against the candidate, refusing to endorse him, and called on him to drop out of the race two weeks after the primary vote on May 4.
A closer look at these two races sheds much light on the internal strife with the GOP and the tension between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party-leaning Republicans.
After the May 4 primaries, Tom Fetzer, the chairman of the North Carolina GOP, has publicly voiced concern that D'Annunzio is unfit for public service at any level. Gawker.com reports that D'Annunzio is a "druggie," "deadbeat dad," and believes himself to be "the Messiah." According to a judge involved in one of D'Annunzio's many court appearances, D'Annunzio believes the government to be the Anti-Christ. He has also called for the abolition of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Energy, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Transportation, Treasury, and Home Land Security.
All of this, publicly available on his blog and on public court records, has been circulating among and circulated by the NC GOP itself for the fear of having the nomination hijacked by the Tea Party darling who would not stand a chance of winning the general election. D'Annunzio has tried to defend himself against this public attack on his campaign website and called on Fetzer to apologize for his remarks and step down as the party chairman.
D'Annunzio's religious zeal was already widely known well before the primary. His blog is called Christ's War, and he has declared a "war" against liberals, calling President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, and Larry Kissell "liberal leftist God haters" according to Charlotte News and Observer. The name of his company, Paraclete, which he sold after it was awarded $26 million in federal defense contracts, is a word used by Christians to mean Holy Spirit .
He was already on the radar of BlueNC, community-driven website that promotes progressive values and policies in North Carolina as early as February, 2010. It describes D'Annunzio as suffering from a Christ complex with a fascination for firearms. One of his campaign events was dubbed "Machine Gun Social" at Jim's Guns in Fayetteville, NC where guns were given away and MP5s and machine guns were available to shoot.
Geographically, North Carolina Congressional District 8 spans over 7 counties and includes cities like Concord, home to Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR Research and Development Office, and part of Charlotte, home to Bank of America and Wachovia Bank. The western half of the district is densely populated with Mecklenburg County as one the most densely populated county in the state. Charlotte is the county seat for Mecklenburg, and Mecklenburg has the second highest median income in the state after Wake county. The eastern half of the district, which includes Hoke County where D'Annunzio lives, lags far behind its Western counterpart in terms of income and education level.
In the next district, North Carolina Congressional District 7 represented by Mike McIntyre, a Blue Dog Democrat, there is also a controversy brewing. The district spans from Robeson County, one of the poorest counties in the state with the median income of $25,107 to New Hanover County on the Atlantic Coast with multi-million dollar homes on private islands. New Hanover County and its county seat, Wilmington, are also interesting historically. Wilmington is known for the only successful coup d-etat to ever occur on American soil in the history of the United States, which ushered the bleak Jim Crow era throughout the South at the end of the 19th century. (Read more about the coup here.)
The controversy is not so much about who is representing the GOP in November, but rather about the winning candidate himself. Again, internal strife within the GOP is apparent. The losing candidates have called on Pantano to step down, charging him of dishonesty and furtiveness. (Read my previous blog article about Ilario Pantano here.) They accused him of not only hiding the financial records of his campaign, but they also let know implicitly that Pantano would not win during the general election because of the controversy surrounding his pre-mediated murder charge in a military court in 2005. He was the first Marine to be charged with murder committed in Iraq. Even though the charges were dropped eventually, questions still remain. At the same time, the NC GOP has officially backed Pantano, stating that he won the most votes, and that he was cleared of the charges in the case.
We recall that D'Annunzio called the Democratic leaders "leftist liberal God-haters." Ilario Pantano calls them "Pelosi and her government-hijacking pirates" in his opinion column on military.com that appeared on June 3. In this column, Pantano accuses Rep. Pat Murphy, a Democrat from the 7th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, who also serves on the House Armed Services Committee, of being bought by "radical groups that have actively worked to weaken America" such as MoveOn.org.
Murphy was a commissioned officer in the Army after graduating from college as an ROTC and he is also the first Iraq veteran elected to Congress. Pantano's main charge against Murphy is that, because Murphy has received financial support from "radial" liberal groups, he is not his own man. He has effectively been bought by these groups. This is an especial problem for Pantano because Murphy is a Blue Dog Democrat who is supposedly a conservative leaning Democrat. The MoveOn.org money taints Murphy's conservative credentials. He can't be conservative enough.
Therefore, Pantano claims, although Murphy calls himself a Blue Dog democrat, he can't really be representing any conservative values. Pantano's clear suggestion is this: it is time to get these "dogs out" and real conservatives in. By extension, this needs to happen not just in Murphy's district in Pennsylvania, but also in Pantano's own district represented by another Blue Dog Democrat, Mike McIntyre.
It doesn't seem to matter to Pantano that his column carries the title, "Don't Ask How Much To Repeal 'Don't Tell,'" when the column itself has nothing to do with DADT. Pantano uses this column as a soapbox for calling all conservatives, both moderate and strong, to back real conservatives, i.e., the Republican candidates such as himself. Pantano counts among his credentials his service in the military (like Murphy) and his battle wounds, including the murder charge that was later dropped (unlike Murphy). It seems almost that Pantano uses the dropped charges of murder against him to prove his conservative credentials.
The similarities between D'Annunzio and Pantano don't end there. Like D'Annunzio, Pantano is a born-again Christian. While Pantano does not seem to suffer from "Christ complex" like D'Annunzio, he has publicly stated that he wants to put Christian values back in politics. The first item on his issues page is to "preserve and promote our God-given liberties and constitutional rights."
There is no doubt that Tim D'Annunzio and Ilario Pantano are both riding the wave of the Tea Party movement sweeping the conservative circles. The more ideologically pure, the better their chances are of winning the primary. Only, the GOP seems to be wavering on this principle with the general election in mind. D'Annunzio is unfit, but Pantano isn't. Just where exactly does the GOP stand regarding the Tea Party?
Unfortunately, this purity test is happening not only on the GOP side, but also on the Democratic front as well. Nationally, we saw Arlen Specter lose to Joe Sestak. Blanche Lincoln is headed for a run-off with Bill Halter.
What the result of this ideological purity test will be, no one knows. How will moderates on both sides vote? More importantly, how will independents vote? Of the 6.1 million registered voters in North Carolina, there are 1.4 million voters who are registered as independents. They will be the deciding block during the election for sure.