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PAC tied to US House speaker weighs in on NC primary

Laurie Buckhout, a Republican running for Congress in the 1st District, has support from the Congressional Leadership Fund.
Laurie Buckhout Campaign
Laurie Buckhout, a Republican running for Congress in the 1st District, has support from the Congressional Leadership Fund.

A super PAC supported by the top Republicans in Congress is getting involved in a North Carolina primary fight.

Republicans are hoping to unseat Democratic Congressman Don Davis in northeastern North Carolina's 1st District, which stretches from Goldsboro to the northern Outer Banks. It's expected to be the most competitive congressional race in the state this year, as most other districts are drawn to strongly favor one party.

The Congressional Leadership Fund is running ads to promote retired Army Col. Laurie Buckhout of Edenton in next month's GOP primary. The group is backed by House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republican leaders. Campaign finance records show the PAC has spent nearly $200,000 so far on radio digital ads as well as mailers promoting Buckhout, who served in Iraq and now owns a military consulting firm.

“A retired Army Colonel and decorated combat commander, Laurie Buckhout is a staunch conservative dedicated to securing our southern border and fighting for North Carolinians in Washington," Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for the PAC, said in an email. "She is the right candidate to take on liberal Don Davis this fall and win."

The group's support for Buckhout comes as she faces a hotly contested primary against Sandy Smith. Smith, a business owner who lives in Nash County, was the GOP nominee for the seat in 2022 but lost to Davis.

The Congressional Leadership Fund also backed Smith's primary opponent two years ago, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson. Smith has faced accusations of domestic violence, including claims she hit her husband with a frying pan. She has since embraced that imagery, promising to "take her frying pan to DC." Smith was also on-site at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6—she claims she did not enter the building—and tweeted false statements about why she lost the election in 2020.

Smith has her own TV ads running in the district, one of which touts her support for the false claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

Smith appears to reference the Congressional Leadership Fund's involvement in a recent post on the social media site formerly known as Twitter. "Watch out for swamp ads from swamp orgs propping up a certain candidate from North of Richmond near D.C. who just moved here," she wrote. "If you see an ad sponsored by a PAC it means SWAMP. Just beware and don't buy it."

Both candidates have spent heavily on the primary. Smith has raised nearly $800,000 so far, including $450,000 she loaned her campaign. Buckhout has raised $1.27 million so far, including $1 million she loaned her campaign.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.