Ex-UNC coach Smith asks candidate to remove quote

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It had the makings of quite the endorsement: former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith cheering lawyer Rachel Lea Hunter on to victory in her race for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

"As a loyal Democrat to another loyal Democrat. Win Rachel! Win!"' read the quote from Smith on Hunter's Web site, posted above a picture of the pair at last week's North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

But there's a problem: Smith doesn't remember saying it. "I never really met her," he said Monday. "They just took our picture."

And Hunter's husband and campaign manager said he's not willing to argue with Smith's recollection.

"If he doesn't [remember], that's fine. We're not going to sit here and argue with the greatest legend in college basketball," Connie Mack Berry Jr. said.

An endorsement from Smith could carry weight. He won 879 games in his 36 seasons at North Carolina, the most in NCAA Division I men's history, and won two national championships.

He has supported a few political causes in recent years and has occasionally endorsed political candidates. But in this race, Smith said he's made no decisions about whom to support.

"I assume I'll vote, but I don't know who I'll vote for," he said.

Smith's assistant, Ruth Kirkendall, said she was told Sunday night the quote from Smith would be removed, but it remained online Monday evening. She added that she has received an apology from Hunter's campaign.

Hunter is seeking an eight-year term on the state's high court in the nonpartisan race.

In a statement, she pointed out the Web site didn't specifically say Smith endorsed her.

"The statement said that I had met Dean Smith. I did. ... I did not say that he endorsed me," she said.

The state Board of Elections in February ruled against Hunter's request to appear on the ballot with the nickname "Madame Justice," a moniker Hunter has said she adopted in 1998.