Tim D'Annunzio: Hit Job Victim or Nut?

If you follow one race Tuesday night, follow this one

If you're following tonight's primary races, here's one to track: the North Carolina 8th district Republican House primary runoff, between Tim D'Annunzio and Harold Johnson.

The winner will challenge freshman Democrat Larry Kissell, who won in 2008 after the incumbent Republican, Rep. Robin Hayes, said that "liberals hate real Americans," lending some fodder to his critics just weeks before Election Day. Kissell, by all indications, is a normal guy: he worked in North Carolina's textile industry for 27 years, spent 7 years teaching high school, then put some $30,000 on his personal credit card running for Congress in 2008, only to lose by a couple hundred votes. Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC helped him out with fundraising to retire that debt, and he won his race in 2008.

It's a swing district; whoever wins tonight will have a chance to defeat Kissell and become the area's next congressman.

But the horse race isn't the interesting part. It's the Republicans running in the race tonight.

For one, Harold Johnson is a local sportscaster, and it's always fun when TV personalities run for office.

The real story here, however, is D'Annunzio, a self-funding businessman who once led the race. According to court documents from a contentious child-custody case in the 1990s, D'Annunzio is a "self-described religious zealot" who once told his wife he discovered where the Ark of the Covenant is buried. After those court records were circulated in North Carolina and DC, the NC GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer deemed D'Annunzio "unfit for public office at any level."

Unsurprisingly, this bit of oppo research has been damaging enough to turn the Republican establishment against D'Annunzio. In fact, they've run away from him as fast as they can. In addition to Fetzer's rebuke, John Boehner and Eric Cantor have both donated Johnson's campaign.

In a vulnerable district for Democrats, the last thing Republicans needed was a candidate who could be painted as a loon, jeopardizing a golden opportunity for a pickup.

D'Annunzio, meanwhile, has fiercely defended himself. He is suing Johnson for defamation, claiming Johnson spread falsehoods about him in his ads. He recently accused local talk radio host Keith Larson of lending his voice to one of Johnson's ads and said, in an on-air interview, "Keith, you're probably going to go to hell someday for doing this."

Here's a local TV story that explains D'Annunzio's situation pretty well.

D'Annunzio won the six-way primary on May 4 with 9,548 to Johnson's 8,567, but the other four candidates collected enough votes that D'Annunzio, polling 10 percentage points behind, is in trouble.

Once favored to win this race, D'Annunzio now concedes that it would take a miracle to win.

"My faith is such that I believe that miracles happen everyday. It's not in any way beyond something we can win, and something we can recover from," D'Annunzio was quoted as saying by Charlotte's WCNC.