The eastern North Carolina candidate has former President Trump’s endorsement, but she’s been dogged by controversy.
[Editor’s Note: This story contains references to graphic allegations of domestic violence.]
Drive U.S. 17 in eastern North Carolina and you’re liable to spot plenty of big, red signs for Sandy Smith.
Smith describes herself as an “America-first Christian conservative.” And while she landed the endorsement of former President Trump, other parts of her campaign haven’t gone so smoothly.
In May, WRAL reported that Smith had been accused of domestic violence and dishonesty by two of Smith’s ex-husbands as well as her daughter.
Still, in a midterm election year, there is an expectation that Smith is a legitimate contender in North Carolina’s Democratic-leaning 1st Congressional District, which includes 19 counties near the coast.
Democrat Don Davis, a longtime state senator from eastern North Carolina, is her opponent. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Davis was an assistant professor of aerospace at East Carolina University. He touts his work in the legislature advocating for higher teacher pay, boosting high-speed internet options, and securing funding for ECU’s Brody School of Medicine to expand rural health care options.
Why are we writing about this race? Because while they might not always get the headlines, there’s a lot at stake for rural, eastern North Carolina districts like this. Like many rural NC counties, they’ve struggled in recent decades to overcome the decline of tobacco and textiles. They’ve also struggled more than most with poorly-funded public schools.
Look for our breakdown of Davis’ campaign in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s what we know about Smith, who unlike Davis doesn’t have a legislative background but has been an aspiring candidate for federal office since she challenged (and lost to) retiring Congressman G.K. Butterfield in 2020.
- She’s big on Donald Trump.
“Sandy, you have my total endorsement,” the former president said at a Wilmington rally last month. “You get out and win that race.”
Trump’s endorsement isn’t that much of a surprise. Smith has fashioned herself in the former president’s nationalist image. She hangs out (virtually) with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser. She says things like “drain the swamp.” She avoids policy talk for big, vague statements. She cops Trump’s “thumbs up” pose.
And she went to Washington on Jan. 6, the day that Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, injuring hundreds of police officers and leaving several people dead either during or immediately after the attack.
- She’s been accused of violence multiple times.
Court records show the candidate has been accused by ex-husbands and her daughter of domestic violence and abuse, according to multiple outlets.
Among the allegations, her former husbands have accused her of domestic violence on multiple occasions. Her daughter said in a 2012 petition for a protective order, which was later dismissed, that Smith “held me down by my hair and punched me in the face with a closed fist.” Smith’s daughter was a teenager at the time of the alleged violence.
Smith has denied the allegations, claiming that she is a victim and not the perpetrator of domestic violence. And, this month, she posted a video of her daughter denouncing “disgusting lies” against her mother.
- Smith claims that she will lower gas prices, but that’s hard for a member of Congress to do.
The Republican candidate has promised “cheap gas” and “lower inflation” if she is elected, but is light on specifics about how she would do that.
Regardless, it’s easier said than done, particularly for a member of Congress, which is what Smith wants to be.
Given global concerns of inflation and up-and-down gas prices this year, these are popular lines of attack for Republicans running for election. In most cases, Republicans blame Democrats and President Biden for both.
However, the president and members of Congress have very modest power when it comes to controlling global inflation and gas prices, which are set largely by the global cost of crude oil and private companies. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine played a significant part in driving up costs across the world, economists say.
Biden’s administration has attempted to slow inflation by raising interest rates. The president has also attempted to cut the cost of gas too by releasing oil from the U.S.’ strategic oil reserve. In recent months, the cost of gas has been dropping.
- She wants to ban abortion. No exceptions.
Like all Republicans running in North Carolina for the federal races, Smith is a staunch opponent of reproductive freedom.
“I believe that life begins at conception,” she says on her website. “As your Congresswoman, I will fight every day to protect and defend the sanctity of life, including the unborn.”
Smith has also said she opposes any exceptions to an abortion ban, presumably including even cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnant person’s life is at stake.
- She supports school choice, which might be very bad for local public schools.
Smith is a supporter of school choice, a key issue across North Carolina but particularly in rural counties like the ones she hopes to represent.
Many of these counties have struggled with poor school funding for decades. See the state’s long-running Leandro court case. So some conservatives have turned to private options, but there is legitimate concern that school choice expansions drain public school coffers further.
K-12 research has found school programs can widen inequality in schools, contributes to segregation, and destabilizes local public schools.