N.C. GOP candidates continue to question Obama's birthplace

McClatchy NewspapersMay 7, 2012 

Long after the controversy over President Obama’s birthplace seemed settled, some leading Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina have brought new attention to the issue as they seek advantages in hard-fought primary races.

Richard Hudson, considered a leading Republican candidate in the race to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell in the 8th Congressional District, told a Tea Party group in Rowan County recently that “there’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.”

Dr. John Whitley, one of Hudson’s opponents in Tuesday’s primary, declared Obama’s birth certificate a “poorly reproduced forgery” after comparing it to the Hawaiian birth certificate of one of his campaign workers.

“There is a tremendous amount of smoke here,” Whitley said. “In fact, it’s called a smoke screen.”

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph, one of 10 GOP candidates in Tuesday’s primary in the 9th Congressional District, said this week that he’s not convinced Obama was born in the United States.

Critics have charged for years that Obama was born in Kenya, his father’s birthplace. The controversy peaked last year, leading the White House to release a detailed birth certificate that showed he was born Barack Hussein Obama II at 7:24 p.m. on August 4, 1961 at Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu. Newspapers the next day listed Obama among the births at the hospital.

Top Republicans have declared the issue dead, and Obama hoped the debate was over. But apparently not in North Carolina.

Ferrel Guillory, a political analyst at UNC Chapel Hill, said some Republican critics of Obama aren’t concerned with facts. He said the candidates feel raising the birther issue will help them connect with deeply conservative Republicans who dislike Obama.

Race may be a factor, he said.

“Some of the birth people would deny that they’re doing it as a kind of modern way, or contemporary way, to raise the old race issue,” Guillory said. “But I think within that birther sentiment is a package of emotions and predispositions.”

Not all Republican candidates are questioning Obama’s legitimacy.

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Dunn Republican representing the 2nd Congressional District, and State Sen. David Rouzer, who is running in the 7th District, are convinced Obama is a native.

“This issue has already been settled and we should be focusing on getting Americans back to work and making sure President Obama is not reelected,” said Jessica Wood, a spokeswoman for the two campaigns.

Ilario Pantano, who is in a GOP battle with Rouzer for the right to run against Democrat U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, said he still had “real questions.” But Pantano said he’ll focus on the president’s failed policies.

“The way I see this is whether he was born on the moon or Nicaragua or Honolulu, the bottom line is he has to be defeated in November,” he said.

Dave Wasserman, a congressional editor for the Cook Political Report, said it was surprising that Pendergraph and Hudson have paid attention to the issue.

“Even in a North Carolina Republican primary, sympathy for the birther issue is not a prerequisite to win the primary," he said.

Whitley, however, cited the work of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who pulled together a team of investigators to review the birth certificate. In March, he declared that his team had found evidence that the certificate is a forgery. Critics accused him of pandering for votes.

Reached Friday, Hudson appeared to back away from earlier comments. He would not say whether he believes Obama was born in the United States, but noted that he had never seen the president’s birth certificate. If elected, he said he hopes to eliminate any future legitimacy issues by helping implement rules and procedures that’d verify the president was born in the United States.

N.C. Rep. Fred Steen of Landis, one of Hudson’s four opponents in the 8th District primary, said he would support legislation to make sure future presidents are definitely U.S. citizens. But he said voter’s biggest concern is the economy.

“The governor of Hawaii has presented the information (regarding Obama’s birth certificate),” he said. “I’m not going to call her a liar. If you don’t like Obama, vote him out.”

Pendergraph is not the only 9th District candidate questioning Obama’s birthplace. Richard Lynch of Belmont said, “While I want to believe that Mr. Obama is a natural-born citizen, I must admit that the evidence leaves me with doubt.”

Jim Morrill, Tim Funk contributed.

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