After heated congressional race, unity remains elusive for GOP

By Pat Gruner Staff Writer
The Daily Reflector
Greenville, NC

May 18, 2022

Republican 1st District U.S. House candidate Sandy Smith answers a question during a candidates forum hosted by the Pasquotank Political Action Committee on March 8, in Elizabeth City. GOP 1st District candidates Brad Murphy, Brent Roberson and Will Aiken, from left, also took part in the event.
Paul Nielsen/The Daily Advance

Tuesday’s victory by Sandy Smith spells defeat for Republicans in November, the campaign manager for a primary rival said Wednesday, but a backer of Smith said she will be “taking her frying pan to Washington.”

Smith defeated her closest rival Sandy Roberson with 31.4 percent of the vote in the GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District, just enough to avoid a runoff with Roberson, who tried to muddy her with a past that included charges of spousal abuse and battering a former husband with a frying pan.

Smith will face Democrat Don Davis on Nov. 8 in the Democratic-leaning district for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield. Roberson’s camp argued voters should elect him over Smith because Democrats would use her history against her and lose a seat that could otherwise swing to the GOP.

“Last night Don Davis won the general election as well,” Roberson campaign manager Adam Wood said Wednesday after Davis handily defeated three other Democrats and Roberson garnered just 26.75 percent of the votes in a field with six other candidates.

Roberson’s campaign went on the attack in early May accusing Smith in the press and in campaign ads of spousal abuse, bankruptcy and scams. The camp distributed the “Expose Sandy Smith” file, which they said would be used as an “October surprise” by Democrats.

Roberson, the mayor of Rocky Mount, responded late Wednesday to a request for a statement from the Rocky Mount Telegram.

“It was a hard fought race and I want to thank all of my supporters for their votes," he said via email. "While I had hoped for a different outcome, I wish the nominee well in November.”

Prior to Roberson's response, Wood stood by the decision to go on the attack. “We are proud of the campaign that we ran,” Wood said. “I believe the results show the tactics we used were what we needed to do. It did not get us across the finish line but we left it all out on the field.”

Smith took to Twitter after her victory late Tuesday to mention the moves made against her by campaign rivals. In addition to Roberson’s releases, she said U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader in the House, released $600,000 in attack ads on top of money spent by Roberson.

“Nearly $2 million in smear ads against us and we still came out on top. No run-off,” Smith’s tweet read. “I will fight for border security, jobs, cutting the gas tax and fixing our broken Biden economy.”

On Wednesday morning, Smith tweeted that Roberson had called to congratulate her, adding that it was time to unite as Republicans.

William Gheen, activist and founder of the ALIPAC, a political action committee that opposes illegal immigration, said that Smith’s victory following the vitriol is actually a good sign for the party’s chances in District 1 come November.

“I was on the ground in the 1st,” Gheen said. “We’d never seen anything like what just happened in the 1st. Kevin McCarthy swinging in with $600,000 worth of attack ads on a fellow Republican? It was insane.

“Sandy Smith passed through the trial by fire and had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at her. She’s taking her frying pan to Washington. I love it.”

Gheen said that in speaking to both registered Democratic voters and poll workers in the southern part of the 1st District, he heard that many of them are uncomfortable with “radical elements” of the party’s platform.

“They’re not happy,” Gheen said. “They’re not comfortable there. I think the message shining through for Smith is the D.C. swamp fears her because they can’t control her. The 1st District has someone running who will really not be beholden to the special interests in D.C. The special interests in D.C. just tried to take Sandy Smith out.”

Gheen also called for unity in the Republican party now that the primaries are over, calling Wood’s statement damaging.

“The Sandy Roberson campaign is being destructive toward both the Republican party and the people of the district by refusing to graciously concede and endorse Sandy Smith for the general,” Gheen said.

In regard to her win, Smith said that her campaign “defeated the big dark money last night.” She added that “people have spoken and want a real American first fighter that is going to stand up and fight for this district,” before reiterating a commitment to the campaign promises in her tweet.

Davis was asked for his thoughts on his opponent, but said that he is focusing on eastern North Carolina.

The new 1st Congressional District comprises 18 full counties and one partial county in northeastern North Carolina. The counties include Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell, Vance, Warren, Washington and Wilson.

The district includes most of Pitt County, with the southern portion of the county in the 3rd District.

President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump 53 percent to 46 percent in the counties that now make up the district, according to state election data.

Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper won 55 percent of the vote in the new district, while Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson won 47 percent of the vote that same year.

Smith in 2020 lost to Butterfield with 45 percent of the vote in the district.

Contact Pat Gruner at and (252)-329-9566.