Kelly Daughtry and Brad Knott are fighting hard in the last congressional primary runoff here in North Carolina. As they compete for the Republican nomination, we’ve seen lots of ads trying to point out flaws in the other candidate’s conservative bona fides. No surprise there.

But one line of attack that is surprising is the Daughtry camp’s repeated insistence that Knott was cozy with President Biden simply because Knott worked as a federal prosecutor for several years across three different presidential administrations. One of the ads from Team Daughtry even featured a doctored photo replacing a law-enforcement officer with President Biden draping his arm across Knott’s shoulders. Of course, Knott has never even met President Biden (much less supported him).

But apart from the misleading nature of the ads, as a former federal prosecutor myself, I find Daughtry’s line of attack troubling for another reason: the chilling effect it will have on qualified and competent people serving in critical roles in our government for fear of future political ramifications.

The work of assistant US attorneys — like Knott, myself, and countless others — is non-partisan and apolitical. Federal prosecutors are the ones working day in and day out to enforce our federal laws in court and put serious criminals behind bars — criminals like the ones that Knott routinely prosecuted, who traffic deadly poison into our communities (often across the border) and who oversee networks that terrorize our communities with violence.  When the kingpin whose drug trafficking organization delivered a lethal dose of fentanyl to your child is on trial, and you’re sitting in the courtroom, politics doesn’t matter very much.  You want the most competent lawyer zealously representing the United States.

What our country needs is for our best and brightest of all political stripes to want to do this work at some point in their career. What our country does not need is for sharp and talented young lawyers to think twice about taking a job that safeguards our communities simply because of who happens to be president at the time. 

An example helps. Imagine with me, if you will, a young woman, a few years out of law school. She’s sharp, organized, quick on her feet. She’s not easily rattled. She gets some experience around the courtroom. She loves it. And she’s good at it. She’s the kind of lawyer we should all want representing us when the most dangerous criminals are on trial. And she may well be the kind of person you’d want to represent you in Congress one day.

But according to the Daughtry camp’s reasoning, this young woman better think twice before taking a job as a federal prosecutor — especially if the president happens to be of a different party when the opportunity comes around. Otherwise, it might be her showing up in a doctored photo on TV someday and a president she opposes with his arm around her shoulder. 

And that’s why the Daughtry camp’s attacks are particularly troubling. If our young lawyer turns down the job, that loss is a loss to all of us. We — the public — are the ones missing out. Daughtry would do well to apologize for the ads, correct the record, and make clear that there’s no place for political attacks on apolitical government service.