North Carolina congressional candidate suspends campaign days before primary runoff

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — 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 district. But she failed to get above the 30% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. She and second−place finisher Brad Knott, a former federal prosecutor, had 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 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.”

But her announcement doesn’t mean she is no longer an official candidate. 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 Leo Daughtry, ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in 2022.

“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.”

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.

Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press

Photo: AP