The runoff election for the Republican nomination in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District race is heating up as both candidates work to align themselves with former President Donald Trump. On Friday, Trump endorsed Brad Knott in the race. Knott is running against Kelly Daughtry. The victor of the May 14 runoff will face Democrat nominee Frank Pierce in the general election. 

Knott ENdorsed By Trump

“President Trump helped keep our communities safer by making it clear if you committed a crime you were going to do the time because he removed the restraints from Federal Prosecutors and told us to go get the worst of the worst and put them in jail,” said Knott in a press release. “With that mandate, it was my privilege to be able to work with many wonderful law enforcement officers across the 13th District to prosecute hardened criminals. I am honored to receive President Donald Trump’s endorsement and can’t wait to work with him to help him secure our Southern border.”

Last week, Knott’s campaign was targeted by ads featuring AI-altered photos. In both altered photos, Knott is depicted as friendly with President Biden. In the original photos, Knott is actually pictured with law enforcement officials.

“I recently resigned as a federal prosecutor to run for Congress in the 13th Congressional District in North Carolina. While working in law enforcement, I became familiar with issues important to every North Carolinian, and I look forward to discussing these issues in this campaign,” according to Knott’s website. “I grew up in Raleigh. My parents grew up in small towns, Wilson and Knightdale. My grandfather, now 97 years old, fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. My parents taught Bible Study, and now, so do I. My wife, Joanna, and I have been blessed with two daughters.”

Knott attended Wake Forest University and worked as a clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby. His platform issues include securing the border, solidarity with Israel, supporting law enforcement, protecting the unborn, school choice, first and second amendment rights, and inflation. 

“President Donald Trump’s endorsement is the best endorsement any Republican primary candidate can get in this particular solar system,” said Jonathan Felts, campaign adviser to Knott, in a press release. “Trump endorsing Knott is a devastating blow to Daughtry’s campaign because Daughtry built her entire operation on the fake narrative she is the MAGA candidate in this race and now, no less than President Trump himself has plainly and distinctly labeled Daughtry as ‘no friend to MAGA.’ The Trump endorsement massively diminishes Daughtry’s paid media advantage which means the grassroots operation now matters more than ever. While we already have a pretty good grassroots game thanks to Conservatives who volunteer their time and energy, additional door-knockers and callers supporting Knott would put us in the strongest position to win on May 14.”

Daughtry Campaign Targets Knott

Meanwhile, Daughtry’s campaign is highlighting what they call Knott’s “refusal to vote for Trump” and his employment as a federal prosecutor from 2016 until last year. They are also focused on Knott’s residence in neighboring Raleigh, outside of the district, while Daughtry lives in the district. US House members are not required to live in the districts they represent.

“Voters know left-wing liberal Brad Knott was Joe Biden’s attorney who betrayed President Trump when he needed it most,” said Stefan Mychajliw, spokesman for the Daughtry campaign, in an email to Carolina Journal. “While Kelly Daughtry upholds and fights for the rule of law, Brad Knott committed his own violations of election law.  The choice is clear for Republicans: Brad Knott refused to vote for President Trump two times, then doubled down on his backstabbing ways by faithfully serving as Joe Biden’s attorney while the Biden DOJ prosecutes President Trump.”

Mychajliw offered no specifics about which election laws were violated, but Knott was subject to criticism for failing to change voter registration from his parent’s residence and voting from that residence for years into adulthood.

Daughtry has been criticized for her donations to the campaigns of Democratic candidates. Those donations include Mark Bibbs, a 2014 candidate for the state House, Attorney General Josh Stein in 2020, Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis in 2019 and 2020, Judge Lori Christian in 2014, and Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley in 2014. On the stump this year, however, she’s aligned herself with Trump.

“In Congress, I’ll work with President Trump and to implement the America First agenda because that’s what the people of this district deserve,” Daughtry told Carolina Journal in an email.  

AI in campaign ads

Use of AI, or artificial intelligence, in campaign ads has bubbled up already in the 2024 elections, as many analysts have cautioned. In addition to the ads against Knott, Mark Walker’s congressional primary was marred by ads using an artificially generated version of his voice. At the time, Walker’s campaign warned that they “intend to explore all legal options,” signaling the potential for litigation.

A 1931 state law declared it unlawful to “publish or cause to be circulated derogatory reports” referencing any election candidate, knowing that the report is false or with “reckless disregard” to its truth when it is “calculated or intended to affect” the candidate’s election.

That statute was cited after the 2020 election by Republican candidate for Attorney General Jim O’Neill in a complaint against current attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein. O’Neill accused the Stein campaign of knowingly lying about O’Neill in a television ad.

In response, Stein filed a federal suit to throw out the 1931 law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. In April 2023, Stein filed to withdraw a motion for a summary judgment.  Wake county District Attorney Lorrin Freeman agreed with Stein’s lawyers that the case was “moot” and could be “appropriately dismissed.”

The runoff election on May 14 will feature the contest between Daughtry and Knott; runoffs for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor between Hal Weatherman and O’Neill; and, for the Republican nomination for state auditor between Jack Clark and Dave Boliek.