Under the Dome

GOP leader recruiting challenger for NC House majority leader?

House Majority Leader Mike Hager, right, says his opponents are trying to recruit a Republican opponent to challenge him in the March primary.
House Majority Leader Mike Hager, right, says his opponents are trying to recruit a Republican opponent to challenge him in the March primary. cseward@newsobserver.com

N.C. House Majority Leader Mike Hager says the chairman of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party has been recruiting a challenger to oppose Hager in the GOP primary.

Hager said he’s filed a complaint with state party leaders after an elected official in his Rutherford County district got a call asking him to oppose the incumbent legislator. Hager said the caller, Mecklenburg GOP chairman Curtis Watkins, promised to “fully fund” a challenger’s campaign.

Watkins admits that he made the recruiting call but says he made it clear he wasn’t acting on behalf of the Mecklenburg GOP. Party leaders aren’t allowed to take sides in primaries in their official roles, and Hager said Watkins violated that rule.

“I don't believe ANY Republican is above being replaced in a primary by a better Republican,” Watkins said in an email. “So if I choose to gather information on if other Republicans will face a primary challenge on my own, and outside of Mecklenburg County to boot, that is my personal choice in my personal time.”

Hager offered a possible reason why Watkins might want him replaced in the legislature: “I am probably the most prominent opponent of the renewable energy mandate,” he said.

Watkins is a vice president at SolarWindow Technologies, Inc., but he says the company doesn’t have a stake in the renewable energy fight in North Carolina.

Hager says his foes could find it difficult to recruit a prominent Republican in his district to oppose him. “A lot of those guys that hold office now are ones that have worked with me the whole time,” he said. “Rutherford County is a small county, and we all know each other.”

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