Butterfield’s ‘October surprise’ comes early in NC-1 GOP primary

Sandy Smith (L) and Sandy Roberson (R) were the leading candidates in the Republican primary for N.C.'s Congressional District 1.

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  • The Sandy vs Sandy Republican primary race just went nuclear amid accusations of domestic violence
  • “If she won the primary, they were going to bring it out right before the election,” said Smith's ex-husband Eric Goranson.

The 1st Congressional District GOP primary features a crowded field, but Sandy Smith —who ran and lost to Democrat incumbent Rep. G.K. Butterfield in 2020 — and Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson appear to be the two front runners. Both have raised over $1 million and have garnered major endorsements. Roberson received N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s endorsement at a late April fundraiser, where Moore said that Roberson was the GOP’s “best chance to win the 1st District.” Smith also has a list of big-name endorsements, including many from former President Donald Trump’s circle, like U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, General Michael Flynn, and Roger Stone.

But Roberson’s campaign may be going “nuclear” with the primary election less than two weeks away, releasing a trove of documents that they allege show Smith is unfit to be the GOP nominee. The accusations include spousal abuse, bankruptcy, running scams, and owning a business that sells sexual clothing.

According to Roberson’s team, the information in the “Sandy Smith Exposed” file was going to be used as an “October surprise” by Democrats. They claim to be using it as a May surprise of sorts now in order to prevent a potential GOP nominee from being discredited in a way that would put an otherwise competitive seat out of reach.

On May 4, Roberson released a statement on Twitter linking to this file and saying, “Sandy Smith as our nominee for #NC01 would spell disaster.” The files were also texted anonymously to journalists earlier, including to two at Carolina Journal. Eric Goranson, one of the ex-husbands in the files, also reached out independently to CJ to discuss the accusations.

“It first started out with Butterfield’s people [who] reached out to me,” Goranson, a radio host in Oregon, told CJ. “They were going to use that for an October surprise when he ran for re-election, but it sounds like he’s not running for re-election. So all the opposition research they were given, the Democratic Party were going to hang onto it. If she won the primary, they were going to bring it out right before the election.”

CJ also spoke with Roberson’s campaign manager, Adam Wood, in an April 2 phone interview after Goranson confirmed the “Sandy Smith Exposed” files were from Roberson’s team.

“We heard some pretty bad things about Sandy Smith, and so we decided to do some oppo research [a campaign term for investigating an opponent’s background],” Wood claimed when asked about the files, alleging that Democrats would “100%” use the information and “they wouldn’t be as nice about it as we are.”

Wood, in his conversation with CJ, especially highlighted the bankruptcy, saying, “I know what is black and white is that she has been bankrupt, and now she wants to be in charge of our tax dollars. … I mean, we’re talking about a government that is $30 trillion in debt, and then a woman that decided not to pay her bills wants to solve that problem?”

Brad Murphy, another of the top candidates in the race says that the aggressive strategy isn’t helpful in the big picture.

“Our campaign has worked tirelessly to communicate my vision and plans for turning around the economic and educational fortunes of eastern NC for all citizens, which we believe is the key for a Republican to win District 1 in November,” he wrote in a statement to Carolina Journal. “Sadly, if my primary opponents choose to go nuclear on each other, even if it helps them to win the primary, I fear it will make winning the general election in the fall nearly impossible.”

Goranson, who was married to Smith from 2007 to 2010, said he has not received any money from the Roberson campaign to discuss his marriage to Smith but simply wants to make voters aware of her past. Goranson said that he has been contacted by multiple campaigns and media outlets since Smith decided to run.

CJ also spoke to Randy Auman, Smith’s husband from 1995 to 2001. Both men claim their marriages with Smith involved physical abuse and financial misdealings. 

Auman told CJ in a phone interview that she would sometimes take swings at him, but none that caused him injury. The incident that did leave him more worried for his safety, though, was when he says she attempted to run him over with his Mustang.

 Auman and Smith were divorced soon after and had serious disputes over custody of their children and property.

Goranson married Smith a few years later in 2007, and he said he very quickly had similar experiences, including an incident where both Smith and Goranson were arrested for domestic violence.

The Gig Harbor, Washington, police report on the incident, obtained by CJ, says that both were charged with “fourth-degree assault, domestic violence,” but the charges were later dropped.

The next business day, Goranson said he filed for divorce, “because I wasn’t going to have that in my life.” But the divorce, as he describes it, followed a similar pattern as her divorce with Auman. He said he was locked out of or unable to access his accounts and property, which Auman also claimed. 

In interviews, Goranson and Auman both claimed Smith made money through various financial scams during their relationships with her. In Roberson’s May 4 statement, he leans into these claims from her ex-husbands, making the accusation that “Sandy Smith has a checkered past of scamming people and companies out of money, taking large ‘loans’ from the federal government, and even changing her identity multiple times.”

Wood contrasted this with his candidate, Roberson, saying he had “no skeletons” in his closet and people should “feel free to rummage through it.” 

CJ reached out to Sandy Smith through her website on May 2 to get comment on the accusations from her ex-husbands and on the Roberson campaign releasing documents on her divorces and bankruptcy. CJ also reached out to Smith’s campaign manager, Brandon Hawks, on May 4 but has received no response by time of publication.