WASHINGTON — After questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obamas birthplace, North Carolina congressional candidate Richard Hudson now says hes willing to give the state of Hawaii the benefit of the doubt and accept that the president was born in the United States.
Hudson is the leading Republican in a highly contested two-man runoff with dentist Scott Keadle for the chance to face Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell in November. Hudson admitted this week that he made a mistake when he told a tea party group before the May 8 primary that theres no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.
I could have expressed myself better, Hudson said in an interview at his home in Concord, N.C. Its not an issue Ive talked about before. Once I had time to really think about my words better and I was not in a forum with a one-minute clock running, I could have given a better answer that I accept the fact that the state of Hawaii says (Obamas birth certificate) is legitimate.
Some critics have charged for years that Obama was born in Kenya, his fathers birthplace. Top Republicans had declared the issue dead last year after the White House released a detailed birth certificate that showed Obama was born in Honolulu.
Hudson was one of several Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina who brought new attention to the old controversy while campaigning in hard-fought primary races.
John Whitley, one of Hudsons competitors in the Republican primary, also raised questions about Obamas birthplace.
So did Jim Pendergraph, a Mecklenburg County commissioner who is in a runoff for the 9th Congressional District seat that includes Charlotte. He told the Charlotte Observer in April he has reason to be suspicious.
Like Hudson, Pendergraph has backed away from his earlier doubts about the presidents birthplace. He said Friday he has no reason to disbelieve the Hawaii birth certificate.
My thoughts are that thats something that ought to be settled in court if somebodys got a problem. . . . I didnt want to get in the middle of this, Pendergraph said in an interview.
Im willing to look at the evidence, period, and wished Id kept my mouth shut, he said.
Hudson, a former congressional chief of staff and one-time aide to former Rep. Robin Hayes, now the states Republican Party chairman, received the most votes among a five-candidate field in the 8th District Republican primary. But he failed to get the required 40 percent to avoid a July 17 runoff.
Keadle, who received 21 percent of the vote, surged in the final days of the race after receiving thousands of dollars for TV ads from the Washington-based Club for Growth. The club also helped Indiana tea party favorite Richard Mourdock upset a six-term incumbent, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.
Its unclear whether the birthplace issue will continue to be part of the debate in North Carolina, but political experts say the runoff is shaping up to be another example of the battle between the GOP establishment and the tea party.
Up to 37 percent of Republican voters in the North Carolina primary affiliate themselves with the tea party movement, according to Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning polling firm in Raleigh, N.C.
Whether Hudson reversed his opinion or had second thoughts, the more people climb down from politicking on theories and supposition the better, said Ferrel Guillory, a political analyst at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He said candidates are forgetting there are other factions of the Republican Party. He cited one of his students, who considers himself a moderate Republican, who complained that he doesnt have anyone to vote for.
There are votes among moderate Republicans for candidates to go hunting for, Guillory said. Its not in the Republican Partys best interest to only have its debate out on the right wing all the time.
Keadle called the birthplace debate irrelevant and wouldnt opine on Obamas birthplace.
I havent spent two seconds of my life thinking about where President Obama was born, he said. I have thought an inordinate amount of time about how his policies are destroying this country.
Keadle did say the process to determine whether candidates are eligible should be improved.
Thats the point Hudson said he was trying to make when he answered a question about Obamas birthplace to a tea party group in Rowan County.
Hudson said stronger verification procedures would eliminate this type of future distraction. But he said its time to move on.
I believe the presidents policies have been bad for the country and we as Republicans need to focus on defeating him at the ballot box, he said. To do that, we need to talk about issues like jobs and health care and not dwell on this issue that the state of Hawaii has said is black and white.
Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill contributed.