North Carolina congressional candidate suspends campaign days before primary runoff

A candidate seeking the Republican nomination for a North Carolina congressional seat announced Thursday that she’s suspending her campaign, citing her rival’s endorsement by former President Donald Trump in their upcoming runoff.

Johnston County attorney Kelly Daughtry had finished first among 14 candidates in the March 5 Republican Primary for the central North Carolina 13th Congressional District. But Daughtry failed to get above the 30% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff — she received 27%. She and second-place finisher Brad Knott, a former federal prosecutor who got 19% of the vote, advanced to the scheduled May 14 runoff.

In a social media post, Daughtry said that with Trump’s formal backing of Knott last month “it has become clear that a pathway to victory is no longer feasible.”

“I believe in the democratic process and respect the endorsement of our President,” Daughtry added.

Knott had also picked up the endorsement of third-place Primary finisher, Fred Von Canon.

“The time has now come to suspend my campaign,” Daughtry added. “Brad has my full endorsement, and I want him to know that I am here to support him, not to oppose him.”

Ending a campaign less than two weeks before any election is unusual, and even more so for the top vote-getter in a Primary. Knott had to formally ask for the runoff. But the turnabout speaks to the influence from Trump’s backing in a state that he won both in 2016 and 2020.

But her announcement doesn’t mean she is no longer an official candidate, the State Board of Elections said. And her name won’t be removed from the ballot — it’s too late for that. Early in-person voting for the runoff continues through May 11, and traditional absentee balloting has been going on for weeks.

Knott accepted Daughtry’s endorsement in his own statement but cautioned supporters who believed he was now the Primary winner. Daughtry, the daughter of former state legislative leader and gubernatorial candidate Leo Daughtry, ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in 2022, losing to Bo Hines.

“While Kelly has ended her campaign, this election is not over,” Knott said. “I strongly encourage my supporters to get out and vote on May 14.”

Should Daughtry win the second Primary but not accept the nomination, the Republicans’ 13th District executive committee would appoint a candidate to appear on the November ballot, state elections board spokesperson Pat Gannon said by email.

The seat for the reconfigured 13th District covers all or parts of eight counties. The horseshoe-shaped boundaries arc around most of Raleigh, the state capital, and stretch from Lee County — then east and north — to the Virginia border.

The current 13th District is represented by first-term Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel. Nickel, however, declined to seek reelection, citing the North Carolina legislature’s redistricting last fall that skewed his district to the right politically. Two other Democratic incumbents — Reps. Jeff Jackson and Kathy Manning — didn’t run either, saying the GOP-leaning skew also made it impossible for them to win in November.

The GOP runoff winner in the 13th District will still have a fall Democratic rival in Frank Pierce. Still, the Democratic departures could make a big difference in whether Republicans can retain their narrow U.S. House majority entering 2025.

Currently Democrats and Republicans hold seven congressional seats each in North Carolina. But the configuration of the map upon which this year’s elections are held makes it likely the GOP will win at least 10 of the 14 seats, according to election data.

The May 14 runoff also includes two statewide races — for the GOP Primary nominations for lieutenant governor and state auditor.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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