Local Politics

GOP primary runoff sparks party in-fighting

Posted June 18, 2010 2:21 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2010 7:58 p.m. EDT

Party in-fighting has dominated a primary runoff to determine which Republican candidate will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell in November.

Tim D'Annunzio and Harold Johnson emerged as the top vote-getters against four other candidates in the May 10 primary. D'Annunzio carried nearly 37 percent of the vote, and Johnson 33 percent.

The winner of the runoff on Tuesday will face off with Kissell and Libertarian nominee Thomas Hill to decide who will represent the state's eighth Congressional district, which includes parts of Cumberland, Hoke, Anson, Carrbarus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Richmond, Scotland, Stanly and Union counties.

Both candidates have talked about Republican issues such as repealing the health care overhaul, limiting government and creating jobs.

"I am a constitutional conservative," D'Annunzio said.

"I wish the president would sit up and say, 'You know what, I'm going to extend the George Bush tax cuts," Johnson said.

But their contest for the nomination has set off some fierce party in-fighting.

D'Annunzio, a successful Raeford businessman, enjoys backing from the Tea Party but clashed with Republican party leaders after the release of papers from his 1995 divorce that reported about past drug use and juvenile arrests.

The chair of the state Republican Party, Tom Fetzer, called D'Annunzio an "angry and irrational person who is unfit to serve."

D'Annunzio and his supporters fired back by calling for Fetzer to resign.

"I'm not a party guy," D'Annunzio said. "I'm not someone who will take orders from them."

Johnson, a longtime Charlotte TV sports anchor, has won support from Republican Party leaders, and recent polls show him benefiting from D'Annunzios' battles, like an exchange in which he told a critical Charlotte radio host that "there's a special place in hell for you."

"Which one of us is best suited to move on to November and beat Larry Kissell?" Johnson said. "Give Republicans a chance."

D'Annunzio said he has been wrongly characterized by critics. He has sued Johnson, alleging that campaign ads defamed his name.

"I think we're going to win because the people see through the attacks, see them for what they are, and they do really want change," he said.

Both candidates have put their own money into the fight: Johnson loaned his campaign nearly $300,000, and D'Annunzio gave his more than $1.3 million.