"The bottom line is, it's very likely that we could have a crowded primary, and that's to be expected if it becomes a very favorable district," Pantano said. "I'm going to do what I can, and what I recognized was I needed to spend more time out there earlier."
Pantano's familiar with divisive primaries. After edging out 2008 nominee Will Breazeale in last year's primary, Breazeale refused to endorse Pantano, pointing to a controversial episode in the Marine's past that his opponents would also frequently seize on during the election. In 2004, Pantano shot two Iraqis who had been detained by his unit. Initially charged with murder, the charges were later dropped after an investigation. Pantano has said both he and the USMC have fully answered questions stemming from the charges.
The race will be an important pick-up opportunity for national Republicans looking to protect and expand their majority. The NRCC said Tuesday that they welcome Pantano's candidacy, but remain neutral in primaries.
"As we approach the two-year anniversary of the stimulus vote, it's no surprise that Mike McIntyre's reckless spending record and support of the failed stimulus plan has attracted a strong Republican challenger right out of the gate," said NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
But Democrats were quick to point to both Pantano's past and his loss in a strong year for Republicans.
"If they want to run one of their most flawed nominees for 2010 with more baggage than a transatlantic flight who barely got within 10 percent of his opponent during one of the best Republican waves in a generation, go for it," one senior Democratic operative remarked.
In a statement from the state Democratic Party, chairman David Parker seized on Patano's financial work history, saying, "the voters of Southeastern North Carolina already rejected this Goldman Sachs trader with dangerous ideas who supported privatizing Social Security and protecting tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and they'll do it again."