Tea party activist backs Democrat in race

A leading tea party activist broke ranks Monday to endorse Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, expressing concern about a Republican challenger who was once charged with murder in connection with his military service in Iraq.

Deborah Johns said it appears that voters are ignoring Republican candidate Ilario Pantano’s past.

Pantano, a Marine Corps officer during the Iraq war, was charged with premeditated murder in 2005, and prosecutors accused him of shooting two Iraqis in the back. An investigating officer later said Pantano made “serious errors” in judgment but should not be brought to trial for murder.

“That is not a war hero,” said Johns, adding that she read all the details of Pantano’s case in a 700-page transcript of his investigative hearing. “It is people like that that give all our military a bad name.”

Johns is the former vice chair of the California-based Tea Party Express, and she still speaks at tea party events. She’s also the mother of a Marine. Johns said it was difficult for her, as an advocate for both the tea party and military families, to oppose Pantano and said McIntyre is the first Democrat she’s endorsed. Pantano has drawn support from many activists in the tea party movement.

Johns has been involved in the 7th District race since the primary season, when she backed Republican candidate Will Breazeale. She had praise Monday for McIntyre’s voting record, saying he’s clearly not just following the policies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He voted against the health bill and is widely considered a Blue Dog Democrat concerned about government sending.

“I don’t see in his voting record that it’s so egregious that he should be voted out of office,” she said.

A spokesman for Pantano did not immediately return a call seeking comment. McIntyre has represented the district covering southeastern North Carolina for seven terms.

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