Pantano wins in Republican race for U.S. House

May 4, 2010

Ilario Pantano won the three-way Republican primary for U.S. House Tuesday night, earning the chance to clash with Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre in the November election.

After a lively primary race, Pantano led Will Breazeale by a considerable margin at press time, according to unofficial results. Randy Crow finished a distant third.

At about 9:15 p.m., Pantano showed up at the New Hanover County Board of Elections after seeing preliminary returns and said, “We’re feeling pretty good.”

“I think that our message of promoting job creation, of protecting the homeland and preserving conservative values resonated,” Pantano said.

Breazeale, seeing the writing on the wall before all the counties had reported results, said he would “under no circumstances” endorse Pantano in his challenge of McIntyre. Pantano, Breazeale said, has refused to provide financial and military records that could shed some light on how he makes a living and provide more details about his military career, including Pantano’s well-documented shooting of two Iraqis in 2004.

“I don’t trust him, and I can’t endorse a candidate I don’t trust,” Breazeale said, adding that he wouldn’t support McIntyre either.

North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District includes all or parts of 10 Southeastern North Carolina counties, including Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender.

McIntyre is serving his seventh term in the House. A Republican hasn’t held the Wilmington area’s seat since Alexander H. Jones in 1871, nearly 140 years ago, according to the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The next phase in the election began even before results came in Tuesday, when the Congressional district’s Republican Party chairman, Frank Williams, called on McIntyre to debate the GOP nominee. The Republican candidates debated nine times during the past several weeks.

“We are proud of our candidates for their willingness to debate in every corner of the district during the course of this primary,” Williams said in a news release. “If our candidates are willing to debate nine times during the primary, Congressman McIntyre should have the courage to debate his Republican opponent during the general election.”

McIntyre’s campaign couldn’t immediately be reached Tuesday afternoon.

Breazeale, who lives in Wilmington, is a 41-year-old pilot for AirTran Airways and U.S. Army Reservist. He was the GOP nominee for the seat in 2008, when McIntyre defeated him handily in the general election.

Pantano, 38 and seeking elected office for the first time, is a former Marine perhaps best known for being charged with a capital crime for shooting two Iraqis multiple times during a raid in 2004 and hanging a sign over their bodies with the words, “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

After the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, a Marine general decided in 2005 not to bring Pantano to trial. He later wrote a book about the experience.

Pantano is in the “Young Guns” program, which is offered by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to help new GOP candidates build winning campaigns.

Pantano also received the support of Vets for Freedom, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

As of April 14, Pantano’s campaign had raised $109,000, while Breazeale had brought in about $48,000. McIntyre has $834,000 in his campaign chest.

Asked what the first step will be in campaigning against McIntyre, Pantano said: “Stay tuned.”

The results are unofficial until they are certified next week.

Patrick Gannon: (910) 264-8328
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