A Closer Look: Congressional candidate Ilario Pantano - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

A Closer Look: Congressional candidate Ilario Pantano

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Ilario Pantano's first step into the political world was not a small one. He chose to run for a seat in Congress in 2010, opposing a seven-term incumbent Democrat who had little trouble with his re-election attempts. Ilario Pantano's first step into the political world was not a small one. He chose to run for a seat in Congress in 2010, opposing a seven-term incumbent Democrat who had little trouble with his re-election attempts.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Ilario Pantano's first step into the political world was not a small one. He chose to run for a seat in Congress in 2010, opposing a seven-term incumbent Democrat who had little trouble with his re-election attempts.

Pantano's campaign came up short against Rep. Mike McIntyre by a 54-46 margin, but it gave the former Marine a desire to run again.

"Nobody thought it would be possible in 2010," Pantano said during a recent interview in the WECT studios. "We were written off locally, and we were written off nationally. By the end of the race we were able to march the needle up from being a safe seat for Mike McIntyre to a tossup. We developed some great relationships, we started to learn the ground, and more importantly voters got to learn about me."

Pantano is one of three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for North Carolina's 7th District seat, along with Sen. David Rouzer and Randy Crow.

The General Assembly's redistricting changed the look of the district, taking out parts of New Hanover and Robeson counties and all of Pender County, and snaking the district north into parts of Lenoir and Hoke Counties, and all of Johnston County.

When that happened, Pantano wrote to lawmakers in Raleigh, voicing his displeasure.

"I think [redistricting] did a disservice to the voters in the 7th district," Pantano said. "There is no reason in my mind that downtown Wilmington should be cut out of the 7th district, and why Pender County where my mother lives is in Rep. Walter Jones' district (NC-3), which goes all the way up to Virginia."

The campaigning in this Republican race started even before the filing period began.

Pantano's campaign produced two television ads targeting opponent Sen. Rouzer (R-Johnston). Pantano's asserts Rouzer "advocated for illegal aliens" by lobbying for the 2007 AgJobs Act.

While Rouzer counters the assertion by claiming the 2007 bill is nearly identical to a 1999 bill supported by then Senator Jesse Helms, Pantano doesn't buy the explanation.

"[Rouzer] supported a bill that a well-known conservative think-tank called amnesty revised, which would give amnesty to three million people," said Pantano. "That's a tax on every North Carolinian who has children in school. It's a tax on our emergency rooms and our courtrooms. We spend in North Carolina more than two billion dollars to provide services for illegals. When my opponent says ‘That's what Senator Helms would have done,' I say, ‘No, Senator Helms would not have done anything of the sort.'"

"I support tax cuts of every kind," Pantano said regarding what he believes it will take to spur the nation's economy.  "I want to get rid of the death tax. I want to get rid of the capital gains tax. I believe, like (former President Ronald) Reagan believed, that if we lower government's grip, folks will do more with their own resources, and that will be better."

As a resident of New Hanover County, Pantano has followed the controversy surrounding plans to build a proposed international port near Southport, in Brunswick County.

Those plans are now on hold, after residents and local leaders raised concerns over the possible impact and cost of the project. Pantano has raised questions as well, and instead favors working to improve the State Port in Wilmington.

"The port at Wilmington ought to be our priority," he said. "I would love to see an expansion we need there to make it something that's serviceable. I am not a fan of the proposed ‘super-port'. Frankly to me it seems like a port to nowhere, and the price for that continues to escalate. I don't think it's prudent to put a mega-port in between a nuclear facility and a nuclear arms depot."

Early polls have Pantano ahead in the race, more than a month before the first votes are cast in the election.

The winner will go up against Rep. McIntyre in the General Election in November.

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