North Carolina MAGA champion Sandy Smith has mostly avoided mainstream journalists, opting instead for the safe spaces of right-wing propagandists. Perhaps that’s why a conservative radio host’s modest pushback flummoxed her.
During an Oct. 6 interview with Henry Hinton, Smith—amid her own complaints about the “Soros media” and her “psychotic” ex-husband—exclaimed: “Last week, I was notified that I’d been married seven, 10 times!”
“How many times have you been married?” Hinton asked.
“Three times,” Smith said.
In fact, Smith has been married at least four times, The Daily Beast has learned. The Republican congressional candidate’s current marriage to businessman William Smith and two earlier marriages—to Randall Auman Jr. from 1995 to 2001 and Eric Goranson from 2007 to 2010—have previously been reported. But Washington State family court records obtained by The Daily Beast reveal that Smith also married a man named Ken Davis on Dec. 23, 2003, then divorced him a year later.
It’s unclear why Smith didn’t mention this relationship. Smith and her campaign did not respond to repeated requests for an interview to clarify the discrepancy, and Davis could not be reached for comment.
But that’s not the only scab that Smith picked at in that interview—nor the most serious.
A week before an election that could—in a large-enough Republican wave—catapult Smith to Washington, D.C., interviews and police reports unearthed by The Daily Beast raise fresh questions about Smith’s past. They also underline the concerns establishment Republicans have harbored about Smith’s viability.
A super PAC affiliated with Kevin McCarthy, the presumptive House Speaker if Republicans retake Congress, spent nearly $600,000 to prevent her from winning her primary in May. Smith, who made rejecting the 2020 election results central to her primary campaign, narrowly prevailed over a crowded field anyway.
Smith is running in North Carolina’s 1st District, a racially divided swath of rural counties that lost population over the last decade. Though the 1st District was once solidly Democratic, the Cook Political Report gave Democrats just a two-point advantage after redistricting. And with longtime incumbent G.K. Butterfield retiring, the seat was up for grabs.
But Smith is an unapologetic extremist. She participated in the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, and—like many MAGA Republicans—she has a long history of unhinged social media posts. They include calling for the “trails [sic] and executions” of those she believes treasonously denied former President Donald Trump a second term.
Most importantly, Smith has repeatedly been accused of domestic violence.
Her first husband Auman told multiple North Carolina media outlets earlier this year that Smith once drove aggressively at him in his Ford Mustang, though he wasn’t sure whether she meant to scare him or run him over. Goranson alleged in divorce filings that Smith bashed him in the face with an alarm clock in 2009. Smith has denied both claims.
For her part, Smith accused Goranson of physically abusing her and her daughter, who was 14 at the time, according to court records obtained this spring by the magazine The Assembly. Smith’s daughter told a social worker that she feared Goranson.
Both Goranson and Smith were arrested on misdemeanor charges of assaulting each other in July 2009, but the charges were quickly dropped, The Assembly reported. Goranson denies assaulting Smith or her daughter and says Smith attacked him after he saw Smith assaulting her daughter and told her to stop.
After an argument on July 9, 2012, Smith’s then-17-year-old daughter sought a protective order against her mother in Lenoir County, North Carolina, alleging that she “held me down by my hair and punched me in the face with a closed fist.” Her daughter, whom The Daily Beast is not naming, also said Smith called her a “slut, cunt, bitch, whore, tramp, loser, crackhead, trailer park trash, etc.,” according to the request for a protective order she filed two days later.
A district court judge granted Smith’s daughter a temporary domestic violence protective order on July 11, 2012, ruling, “It clearly appears that there is a danger of acts of domestic violence against [Smith’s daughter].” The judge set a hearing for July 20. But Smith’s daughter withdrew the protective order on July 17.
(One of Smith’s rivals posted hundreds of pages of opposition research, including the protective order, to a public Google Drive two weeks before the Republican primary.)
Smith has denied allegations that she abused her daughter. A statement she posted to her website quotes her daughter saying, “My mom is NOT a domestic abuser; she is a survivor and a protector.” This past week, Smith tweeted a video of her daughter criticizing the “disgusting attacks on my mom and these horrific lies.” (Smith’s campaign has not made her daughter available for interviews, and attempts to contact her for this story were unsuccessful.)
In the recent interview, Smith told Hinton that two adults—whom she did not name—coerced her daughter into seeking the protective order.
“She actually went to the court and requested it be dropped five days later because it was filed under duress,” Smith said. “And what people don’t want to tell you is the adults that were involved in this were charged and convicted criminally.”
That’s somewhat accurate.
“Let me say this, just to be very clear,” Smith added. “I’ve never lost custody of my kids.”
That part is disputed.
Smith pressed criminal charges against her daughter’s then-19-year-old boyfriend and his mother. But Nick Sugg, the boyfriend, was acquitted on misdemeanor counts of trespassing and communicating threats, according to North Carolina’s record of the cases’ histories. Terry Sugg, his mother, was acquitted of communicating threats but convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sentenced to community service.
Terry Sugg said she could not recall how, exactly, Smith claimed that she contributed to her daughter’s delinquency. (Lenoir County court officials told The Daily Beast that the case files had been destroyed.)
“I can’t tell you the heartache that woman caused me,” she said.
In separate interviews on Friday, the Suggs said their prosecutions were payback for Terry Sugg helping Smith’s daughter seek a protective order, which they both claimed caused Smith to briefly lose custody of her when the teen went into foster care until the order was rescinded.
The Suggs’ version of events could not be independently verified. But their accounts reflect what Smith’s daughter wrote in her request for a protective order: Both Terry and Nick Sugg said Smith called her daughter a “whore” and a “cunt.” And both recalled Smith’s daughter having a black eye after the argument on July 9, 2012.
Terry Sugg sent The Daily Beast pictures that appear to show Smith’s daughter with a swollen left eye and bruising around her left temple, suggesting that she had been punched. She said she took those pictures two days after the fight—when “the bruises were already changing color,” she recalled—at the domestic violence agency where she worked at the time.
(Smith told sheriff’s deputies that night that during an argument, she “grabbed her daughter to keep her from hitting her,” according to an incident report. Shortly after The Daily Beast asked her to comment on the Suggs’ story Friday night, Smith blocked a reporter on Twitter.)
Whatever happened in 2012, Smith and her daughter appear to have reconciled since. But Smith’s hard-right positions and personal baggage might have damaged her chances.
Though Smith has been endorsed by Trump and raised nearly $2 million as of the end of September, the Cook Political Report has deemed the race “Likely Dem,” and FiveThirtyEight gives Smith’s Democratic opponent, State Sen. Don Davis, a 95 percent chance of winning.
Still, Democrats shouldn’t get overconfident, according to Western Carolina University political scientist Christopher Cooper, an expert on state politics. “The environment in the state is getting friendlier to the Republicans every minute,” he said.
Smith ran for Congress in 2020 and lost to Butterfield by nine points. (She first claimed fraud, then claimed she’d scared Butterfield into retirement.) This time, Smith is trying to keep a low profile outside of MAGA circles, Cooper said. She’s hoping to ride a red wave to victory.
“It seems to be the Sandy Smith strategy to avoid the media and hope for a good year for Republicans,” Cooper added. “Given the set of circumstances she has, that’s probably a pretty good political play. The more attention there is on her as a candidate, the worse I think it’s going to be for her candidacy and for the Republican Party.”
It’s hard to tell how much Republican support Smith’s past will cost her. Although Terry Sugg does not live in the 1st district, if she’s any indication, Smith’s history might doom her second bid for Congress.
“You know what’s so funny about it?” Terry Sugg said. “She’s running as a Republican, and, well, I’m gonna vote Republican. But that woman is a witch. I don’t care if she is running as a Republican. I would never vote for her. I wouldn’t let her run the dog pound.”
—with additional reporting by Leigh Tauss