The 13th District primary

Published February 8, 2024

By Carter Wrenn

The primary’s heating up in the new 13th Congressional District – there’re 14 candidates in all but four are dominating the race: Kelly Daughtry, Fred Von Canon, Brad Knott and DeVan Barbour.

DeVan Barbour and Kelly Daughtry both ran in the primary two years ago. Barbour finished 2nd. Daughtry 3rd. Both are from Johnston County which Barbour won.

That said, Barbour’s only spent $150,000 on ads. Kelly Daughtry’s a different story. Last time, she spent over $3 million and she’s on a similar track this election. Her ‘name ID’ isn’t overwhelming but it is higher than any other candidate’s. She didn’t start running TV ads until last month but since starting she’s been outspending the other candidates.

Kelly’s unknown: Last election, during the primary the Carolina Journal reported she’d made campaign contributions to liberal Democrats Josh Stein and Cheri Beasley. (Beasley was running for U.S. Senate. Stein’s now running for Governor). Club for Growth, the SuperPAC supporting Bo Hines, pummeled Daughtry for that. Now, when she says she’s conservative one of her opponents may repeat the same attack. That’s her Achilles heel.

Fred Von Canon’s run for State House twice in swing districts but lost. Like Kelly Daughtry he’s self-funding his campaign. So far, he’s spent more than Daughtry but trails her because of her residual name ID. He’s telling voters he won’t take a salary if he’s elected.

A problem: Last time, when Von Canon ran for State House, WNCN-TV reported he’d been charged for not paying taxes in 2013. He settled the case by agreeing to what’s called a ‘prayer for judgement.’ But, WNCN also reported, a few years after the settlement,he had tax liens filed against him totaling $275,000 by the IRS (in 2017) and the State Department (in 2020). That’s an Achilles heel too.

Brad Knott has never run for office before. Unlike Daughtry and Von Canon, he started out almost completely unknown. His campaign and a SuperPAC (the same SuperPAC that supported former Congressman George Holding in his primaries in 2012 and 2016) have both run ads supporting him. A former federal prosecutor, he indicted and prosecuted drug dealers and cartel drug smugglers.

Scuttlebutt, in Republican circles, has it that Knott’s opponents may attack him because he went to work as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office when Obama was President.

Knott and Von Canon are now running neck-in-neck in a poll – but both trail Kelly Daughtry, narrowly. And with over half the voters still undecided, any candidate could win on election day.

Primaries like this one, with so many candidates, lead to twists and turns that can upend a candidate in the blink of an eye. If, say, Von Canon attacks Kelly Daughtry the votes Daughtry loses may not go to Von Canon – they may go to Barbour or Knott. That happened in 2022 when the Club for Growth hammered Daughtry to help Bo Hines – she lost votes but, especially in Johnston County, they moved to DeVan Barbour.

That’s a snapshot of a primary where an ad, or a slip by a candidate –standing at a podium making a speech or talking to a reporter – could decide who wins in a heartbeat.