Hunt endorsed Bowles, who served as White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton, on Thursday, slighting the other Democratic U.S. Senate candidates running to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.
Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall are Bowles' primary competition for the Democratic nomination.
Former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole is the leading Republican contender. Dole has been endorsed by both Helms and President Bush.
Susan Lagana, press secretary for the Bowles campaign, said Hunt's endorsement would likely translate into additional support for the candidate.
"Governor Hunt is one of the most popular political figures in North Carolina," she said. "His proven success in getting things done and getting the support of North Carolinians is undisputed."
She said the endorsement of Hunt, who served four terms as N.C. governor, will be a major asset to the campaign.
Thad Beyle, UNC political science professor, said the endorsement is a vital boost for Bowles, who according to a recent Elon University polls has less name recognition than Dole.
"Hunt wanted to put a little push on the side of Bowles," Beyle said.
Beyle said Hunt's endorsement will reactivate the political machine that supported Terry Sanford, who served as both N.C. governor and U.S. senator, and aided the election of numerous Democrats, including Hunt.
Beyle said Hunt's endorsement would likely have a negative effect on the campaigns of other Democrats contending for the seat.
Beyle said many of the other Democratic candidates were hoping to get Hunt's endorsement. "They're not happy," he said.
Beyle added that the mix of Hunt's decision to endorse Bowles and lawsuits that have delayed the campaign primaries might prompt other Democrats to drop out of the race.
But some of Bowles' leading competitors questioned whether he could adequately represent N.C. citizens.
Blue stated in a press release that Bowles' support comes primarily from party insiders and financial donors.
Marshall criticized Hunt in a press release, claiming his actions might split the party. "Governor Hunt once stated that he believed his role in this primary was to be the healer of the Democratic Party," she stated. "His announcement does not show he is dedicated to that goal."
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