North Carolina Republicans are crying foul over a candidate who could change the balance of the state Supreme Court. And that candidate is a Republican.
Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin filed at the last minute last week. He joined incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson, a Republican, and Democrat Anita Earls in the race.
But until June 7, Anglin was a registered Democrat. Republicans worry that by siphoning votes from Jackson, he could open the door for Democrat Earls. GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse made it clear whom the party supports.
"The party has endorsed somebody, and (Anglin) will be treated like the enemy he is," Woodhouse said.
Anglin's candidacy is the latest twist in a year when Democrats have fought Republican changes to judicial elections and the courts. It also underscores the importance of the November election in a year when Republican lawmakers eliminated judicial primaries, making it possible for candidates to dilute a party's vote and sway the election.
Last month, in an apparent attempt to siphon votes for Democratic candidates, a group linked to Republican consultants sent mailers "recruiting Democratic lawyers to run for judge."
And one Democratic judicial candidate from Wake County paid the filing fee of a man to run as a second Republican candidate, prompting the county GOP chairman to call it the "sleaziest, most underhanded, and outrageous thing I can imagine."
But the race for Supreme Court, now controlled 4-3 by Democrats, is the state's highest profile judicial contest. It features a candidate in Earls who has been a regular thorn in the side of the GOP.
As former executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Earls, a one-time Charlotte lawyer, has played a major role in lawsuits challenging North Carolina's redistricting plans, voter ID law and other voting restrictions.
Jackson said she stands out from Anglin because of her experience — 28 years as a lawyer and eight years on the state Supreme Court bench. She did not know until Monday that the other Republican on the ballot with her used to be a Democrat.
"Really I'm the only Republican on the ballot," she said.
Anglin, 32, is running as a "constitutional Republican" who assails what he calls "the constant assault on the independent judiciary at the state and federal level."
Though he shared a campaign photo of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on his Facebook page in 2015, Anglin said he's not a Democratic "plant." He's also Facebook friends with Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri and Ken Eudy, a Cooper adviser.
"I filed as a Republican to ... stand up for the independence of the judiciary," he said. "...This is not a trick by the Democrats. ... I didn't think I could sit on the sidelines any more and not take action."
For several years, the Republican-led General Assembly has made many changes to the courts that rule on the constitutionality of laws. Since 2011, the lawmakers taking North Carolina on a sharp swing to the political right have seen many of their laws overturned in court.
This year, they talked about sweeping changes to judicial districts and adopted a proposal to ask voters to amend the state Constitution so the two leaders of the General Assembly control what names the governor must consider when filling vacancies on the benches of the state courts.
They also considered asking voters to abandon the election of judges, but stopped short of that. Last year, they did away with primary elections for all judicial races this year.
The state Democratic Party went to federal court in an effort to stop that. Attorneys argued that without an election to winnow the field of candidates in the first year in decades that all judicial elections are partisan, the party would not have a way to let voters know its candidate of choice on the November ballot.
Republican lawmakers also changed the election rules for 2018 so that any candidate could declare affiliation with a party right up to the time of filing for office.
Democrats argued in court that could lead to shenanigans. For example, they said, someone could file in their party but not really represent the platform.
A Democratic Party spokesman said the party had nothing to do with recruiting Anglin. So did a Cooper adviser. But one GOP consultant said Anglin could split the GOP vote.
"At the end of the day, in the absence of real information, the impact is that will dilute the vote among Republicans," said Paul Shumaker.
Anglin said he's not running just to split the GOP vote.
"My interest is getting on the bench," he said. "I think there are Republicans out there that are appalled by what the state legislature has done. ...To me, being a constitutional Republican means that you believe in the Constitution and that there should be three co-equal branches of government."
Perry Woods, a campaign consultant who works mostly with Democrats, is helping Anglin with his campaign. Neither he nor Woods would say how they were brought together.
"Other people put us together," Anglin said.