D'Annunzio is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC) this fall. He was the leader in a primary earlier this month, but didn't win enough of the vote to avoid a runoff in June. The state and national party is backing his opponent, former T.V. sportscaster Harold Johnson. And how.
"I consider Mr. D'Annunzio unfit for public office at any level," Tom Fetzer, the North Carolina GOP chair, told reporters recently. "What he could do to the party as our nominee is secondary in my view to what he could do to the country if he got elected." And a spokesman for the NRCC said: "The issue is, do we give Democrats a candidate that they can absolutely tear apart in the general election? I don't think most Republicans want to see that happen."
To undermine D'Annunzio, the state GOP has been circulating records from his 1995 divorce and from a 1998 child support judgment. In the latter, as the Charlotte Observer reported Sunday, the judge called D'Annunzio "a self-described religious zealot," and wrote that D'Annunzio had "described the government as the 'Antichrist'."
In the divorce case, Anne D'Annunzio said her husband had told her that "God was going to drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid" on Greenland, and also that he had found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona, among other unusual beliefs.
In addition, a doctor wrote in the custody proceedings that D'Annunzio told him he had once received treatment for heroin dependence, and was jailed three times for offenses that included burglary and assaulting a police officer.
D'Annunzio says his personal problems are in all in the past. But the Born Again candidate still has some pretty extreme political ideas. On a blog he writes, entitled "Christ's War," D'Annunzio declared earlier this year that he wanted to "abolish the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Energy, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Transportation, Treasury, and Home Land Security," and the IRS, as well as "any appellate court that has shown an anti Constitutional activism." He also advocated giving control of Social Security and Medicare to the states.
In March, one of D'Annunzio's top advisers -- a respected North Carolina political hand -- left the campaign over the candidate's refusal to stop posting to the blog.
D'Annunzio won the primary after spending more than $1 million of his own money. In 1999, D'Annunzio, who had served in the army, started a company that makes bullet-proof vests and sells them to the military. Business surged after 9/11, and in 2006 he sold the company for $30 million.
D'Annunzio's run for office poses a direct challenge to the Republican Party -- and not just because party leaders fear he could prove unelectable in the fall. Like some other Tea Party supported candidates, D'Annunzio often seems to be running against the GOP while seeking its nomination. "The Republicans ought to be worried about the Republican Party," he told the Observer. "This is why the Republican Party has seen its day ... Both parties have seen their day."
And some conservative activists seem to like that stance. "He's not the kind of person the parties can rule over and manipulate," one local Tea Party activist who's backing D'Annunzio told the AP.
Last week, Rand Paul used the support of Tea Partiers to win the GOP nomination for Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, against a candidate backed by the party establishment -- but has since been on the defensive about his extreme positions. And Florida governor Charlie Crist, the party establishment's pick in that state's Senate race, ended up quitting the GOP after Tea Partiers threw their support to his opponent, Marco Rubio.
Whether the GOP succeeds in derailing D'Annunzio's campaign could be an indication of its long-term ability to withstand what often seems like a hostile takeover launched by the Tea Party forces.