It had the makings of quite the endorsement: Former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith cheering lawyer Rachel Lea Hunter on to victory in her race for a seat on the state Supreme Court.
“As a loyal Democrat to another loyal Democrat. Win Rachel! Win!'” read the quote from Smith on Hunter’s Web site, posted above a picture of the pair at last week’s North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame banquet there’s a problem: Smith doesn’t remember saying it. “I never really met her,” he said Monday. “They just took our picture.”And Hunter’s husband and campaign manager said he’s not willing to argue with Smith’s recollection.”If he doesn’t (remember), that’s fine. We’re not going to sit here and argue with the greatest legend in college basketball,” said Connie Mack Berry Jr.An endorsement from Smith could carry weight.
He won 879 games in his 36 seasons at North Carolina, the most in NCAA Division I history, and won two national championships. He has supported a few political causes in recent years, speaking out against the state lottery and advocating for a moratorium on executions. He has occasionally endorsed political candidates, including University of North Carolina system president Erskine Bowles, who ran two losing campaigns for Senate.
But in this race, Smith said he’s made no decisions about who to support.”I assume I’ll vote, but I don’t know who I’ll vote for,” he said.Smith’s assistant, Ruth Kirkendall, said she was told Sunday night the quote from Smith would be removed, but it remained online Monday evening. “I think it’s just a big error,” Kirkendall said, adding she received an apology from Hunter’s campaign, who has never been a judge, is challenging incumbent Associate Justice Mark Martin in a nonpartisan race for an eight-year term.
She was a registered Republican when she ran for state Supreme Court in 2004, but switched parties after a falling out with the GOP a statement, Hunter pointed out the Web site didn’t specifically say Smith endorsed her.”The statement said that I had met Dean Smith. I did. He told me a story about Andy Griffith and politics and we took the picture and moved on. I did not say that he endorsed me,” Hunter said.
The state Board of Elections in February ruled against huntress request to appear on the ballot with the nickname “Madame Justice,” a moniker Hunter has said she adopted in 1998.Elections director Gary Bartlett wrote to Hunter saying that the name would mislead voters. Sitting and former justices often use such a title, Bartlett said.