Even before it's certain that Renee Ellmers will go to Washington as the new congresswoman from North Carolina's 2nd District, she is showing a vigorous streak of independence from her party's establishment.
Ellmers, whom the tea party backs, and Carter Wrenn, a political consultant to her campaign, are sniping at the National Republican Congressional Committee for not supporting her campaign and for refusing to lend aid for a looming vote recount. Ellmers, a Dunn Republican, is leading in votes unofficially, but not enough to prevent a recount.
The feud started this summer after Wrenn said the NRCC knew the identities of the two young men who filmed a now-notorious video of Ellmers' opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, losing his temper and grabbing one of the men on a Washington sidewalk.
New York Times story Thursday said that Republican operatives had admitted the two young men were part of a plan hatched by party leaders to send "guerrilla" teams out to film incumbents. The intent of such video teams was to goad Democrats in hopes they would do something embarrassing.
Wrenn said in an interview that he wasn't surprised at the story's revelations. Members of the NRCC initially told the Ellmers campaign they didn't know who the two trackers were, he said, but that changed once Ellmers posted her own YouTube response. Her video urged Etheridge to apologize to the young men "in person."
After the clip went online, the NRCC called the campaign and asked Ellmers to change the language, Wrenn recalled. That was when he learned that the committee knew the videographers.
"I'd known they knew it in June," Wrenn said.
Wrenn said he advised the national committee to tell the press and warned them that he would be doing exactly that. He called local reporters and told them what he knew.
"You don't mislead the press," Wrenn said Thursday. "It's silly."
After the flap with the NRCC, Wrenn said, "they didn't do anything to help Ellmers."
"We asked them the other day to help with the recount with a contribution," he said. "I asked. They said 'no,' and I moved on."
In e-mail to supporters Thursday, Ellmers took several semi-public jabs at the national committee. She, too, noted that the NRCC had refused to help with the recount effort and with her campaign.
"They did support other campaigns in North Carolina - which, unfortunately, lost - but we never received their support. In fact, their spokesman told the press 'that the campaign wasn't ready for prime time' - which actually made it even harder for us to raise money."
In the video, one of the men asks Etheridge whether he fully supported "the Obama agenda." Etheridge repeatedly demanded to know who they were, and then grabbed one by the wrist and, briefly, the neck.
Etheridge quickly apologized, but the video went viral on YouTube. It got nearly 3 million hits and provided fodder for attack ads against Etheridge by an independent conservative group with unnamed donors.
It also generated contributions for Ellmers' campaign, got heavy attention on national television and was eventually named by CBS and Google as the top YouTube political video of 2010.
The two men still haven't been publicly identified. In the video, they claim to be students "working on a project."
Asked about the New York Times story, NRCC spokesman Jon Thompson didn't directly address whether his group was behind the video, but he offered a hint.
"It's no secret that both parties ask members of Congress their position on a variety of issues that can easily be answered or not answered without resorting to violence," Thompson said in a statement Thursday.
And about the NRCC's denial of funds to help Ellmers in the recount effort, Thompson said the committee has offered its expertise to all campaigns facing recounts.
"We have advised all candidates facing a possible recount to start a recount fund and to prepare for an extensive legal process," he wrote. "Our staff and counsel have offered to assist these campaigns in any way possible."