Democratic NC Senate candidate says GOP-linked group is running ads supporting her

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Erica Smith says she “disavows” ads running in support of her candidacy for Senate, as it appears a group with Republican ties created them and paid for them to air.

“We were stunned because from our understanding this has never been done before,” says Smith.

Smith is one of five candidates running in the Democratic primary for one of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seats, hoping to take on incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in November’s general election.

Earlier this week, an ad by Faith & Power PAC began running touting Smith’s progressive stance on issues and encouraging voters to choose her in the March 3 primary.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, the PAC formed last week. The filings mention Ezekiel Patterson as treasurer with an address in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

No one replied to an email associated with the group. The filings show the group is banking with Chain Bridge Bank in northern Virginia, which works with Republican campaigns.

Smith has trailed in fundraising compared to Cal Cunningham, who’s being backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

CNN reported the ad buy by Faith & Power PAC is about $1.5 million.

“I don’t believe that corporations or any special interests should tamper with a primary election or a general election,” said Smith, who said she doesn’t want the ads running. “I would prefer that. Yeah, I definitely would prefer that. We don’t need any corporate PAC assistance in our race.”

The ad touts Smith as a “proven progressive” based on her positions on several issues including supporting the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and instituting a ban on assault weapons.

Smith said whoever is behind the ad campaign may believe that her winning the primary would make it easier for Tillis to win the general election.

“I think that they were believing that we will show that this candidate is the weaker candidate against Senator Thom Tillis. And I believe that that is a direct attack,” she said. “For those who believe that I’m a weaker candidate because Thom Tillis believes he can beat me, I ask, when was the last time Thom Tillis was right about anything?”

In an email to CBS17, Tillis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo wrote, “The outrage from North Carolina Democrats over a positive ad buy for one of their candidates is curious considering they didn’t seem to have a problem with Harry Reid spending millions on attack ads against Senator Tillis during his 2014 primary. The Tillis campaign only heard of this outside group as of this week when their buy became public, and couldn’t be the least bit concerned with which radical liberal emerges from the chaos that is the Democratic primary. With all of the Democratic presidential candidates now turning their attention to North Carolina in the coming weeks, we’re looking forward to seeing how Cunningham and Smith’s visions for America align with the standard bearers of their party.”  

A poll conducted this week by Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling showed Cunningham with 29 percent support in the primary compared to 10 percent for Smith. The three other candidates polled in the low single digits. The poll also found 52 percent of voters are still undecided. Dean Debnam, president and CEO of PPP, has contributed to Cunningham’s campaign, records show.

Cunningham tweeted about the situation involving Smith on Friday.

“Washington Republicans know Senator Tillis is weak, and apparently they don’t like his chances against me in November. Now they’re resorting to shady tactics to meddle in our election – and it’s disrespectful to North Carolina voters,” he tweeted.

An outside group, VoteVets, has been running ads in support of Cunningham, who is an Army veteran. The political action committee describes itself as the “largest progressive organization of veterans in America.”

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