RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican officials are working to derail the campaign of a tea party supported candidate in North Carolina — circulating documents from the man’s messy divorce that depict him as a pot smoker who has called himself the messiah.
It's a risky move for state and national party leaders trying to harness the power of the tea party movement without letting it spin out of their control.
Tim D’Annunzio, a congressional candidate in North Carolina’s most competitive district, has run an anti-establishment campaign with vows to dismantle entire branches of the federal government. His ideas have drawn support from tea party activists, and he has raised more money from individuals than his GOP rival while also contributing more than $1 million to his own campaign.
Republican leaders in both Raleigh and Washington, however, are worried about his electability in November if he wins a primary runoff next month. They’re publicizing court documents about D'Annunzio's past legal, martial and business troubles and denouncing him as unfit for office.
"Mr. D'Annunzio has disqualified himself by his background, his record and his behavior,” said Tom Fetzer, North Carolina’s Republican Party chairman. He said the GOP embraces the tea party but doesn’t believe a person with such a checkered past should be the party's nominee.
In Hoke County divorce records, his wife said in 1995 that D’Annunzio had claimed to be the Messiah, had traveled to New Jersey to raise his stepfather from the dead, believed God would drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid as the New Jerusalem on Greenland and found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona. A doctor’s evaluation the following month said D’Annunzio used marijuana almost daily, had been living with another woman for several months, had once been in drug treatment for heroin dependence and was jailed a couple times as a teenager.
The doctor concluded that his religious beliefs were not delusional. A judge wrote in a child support ruling a few years later that D’Annunzio was a self-described "religious zealot" who believed the government was the "Antichrist." The judge said he was willfully failing to make child support payments.
D'Annunzio declined Monday to discuss the specifics of his past and refused to confirm or deny the details of the court documents. He acknowledged having "a troubled upbringing" but that he got himself out of it and changed his life 16 years ago, when he had a religious conversion.
"The bigger story is that the power brokers in Raleigh and in Washington are willing to go to any length and use any unscrupulous tactic to try to destroy somebody,” he said. “They think that they’re losing their control over the Republican party."
D'Annunzio was the leader in a Republican primary earlier this month but didn’t get enough votes to avoid a runoff. He faces former television sportscaster Harold Johnson in a runoff vote June 22 for the 8th District, which extends from Charlotte to Fayetteville. The GOP is targeting Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell, who won the seat two years ago after many years of Republican control.
Republican tensions with the tea party have surfaced around the country, most recently in Kentucky, when the coalition pushed political novice Rand Paul to victory in the GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat. Paul defeated Trey Grayson, who was supported by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Ronnie Long, a Harrisburg businessman who is president of We the People NC and part of the tea party movement, said he was disappointed to see Republican officials resort to personal attacks against D'Annunzio.
Long said his group and others are backing D’Annunzio because he has the integrity and fortitude to make decisions for the people and not the party.
"He’s not the kind of person the parties can rule over and manipulate," he said.