Under the Dome

‘I have never even given a dime to a Democrat.’ Donations to Cooper at issue in primary

This May 15, 2013, file photo shows state Rep. Bob Steinburg. In February 2018, Steinburg filed to run for Senate.
This May 15, 2013, file photo shows state Rep. Bob Steinburg. In February 2018, Steinburg filed to run for Senate. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Facing a tight Senate primary in the state’s northeastern corner, Rep. Bob Steinburg is criticizing his Republican opponent for making campaign contributions to Roy Cooper and former Senate leader Marc Basnight.

Steinburg, a Chowan County Republican, questioned why several Republican Senate leaders are fundraising for Clark Twiddy – a Dare County realtor and former Naval Intelligence officer – given his past support for Democrats.

Seven prominent Republicans are backing Twiddy over Steinburg, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon and Sen. Bill Cook of Pamlico County, whose retirement has created the open GOP-leaning seat in District 1.

“I think if people in Harry Brown’s district knew he was holding a fundraiser for somebody who supported Roy Cooper, I think it would be a real eye opener for the folks in Onslow,” Steinburg said. “I’m a lifelong Republican – I have never even given a dime to a Democrat.”

According to campaign finance records, Twiddy donated $2,000 to Cooper’s attorney general campaign in 2011 and $2,500 to Cooper in April 2014 as he was gearing up to run for governor. Twiddy also contributed $4,000 to Democrat Basnight’s final Senate campaign in 2010 – the year Republicans won the majority – and his wife, Anna, was listed as an “event chair” for a Cooper fundraiser in Manteo in October 2014.

Reached Monday, Twiddy says he supported Republican Pat McCrory in the 2016 governor's race. “(Cooper) was the attorney general, and I was a businessman, and we were just supporting our elected officials,” Twiddy said of the donations. “When I started to think politically, we realized that was a mistake.” When Cooper was attorney general, Twiddy said his real-estate business was interested in Cooper’s work on vacation rental property issues.

“Sometimes I think it’s important to support people you disagree with,” Twiddy said. “It’s only through debate and dialogue that any good thing will come.”

Cook defended his support of Twiddy, noting that Twiddy supported his past campaigns and was his pick for several state board appointments. "Clark Twiddy not only exemplifies the best qualities that are expected in a statesman – he additionally exemplifies the utmost ability, character and commitment to protect and defend the interest of the people of Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh,” Cook said in an email.

Steinburg, however, said he thinks Cook is backing Twiddy because Steinburg wouldn’t agree to hire the retiring senator’s legislative assistant. Cook rejected that claim, calling it “delusional at best or intentionally untrue at worst.”

“This misleading kind of statement is an example of why I don’t support Steinburg,” he said. “My LA would not work for him under any circumstance and he knows it.”

Steinburg said he thinks Brown's support for Twiddy stems from a disagreement the two lawmakers had over renewable energy policy. Brown proposed a moratorium on wind energy development – something opposed by Steinburg, who has several wind projects in his district. Brown did not respond to requests for comment. Steinburg said he doesn't think Senate GOP leaders should be getting involved in primaries outside their districts, but "I don't think at the end of the day it's going to make a hill of beans’ worth of difference in the primary.”

GOP legislative leaders are also active in another contested primary in northeastern North Carolina. Rep. Beverly Boswell, a Dare County Republican, is facing a primary challenge from Currituck County Commissioner Bobby Hanig. An invitation for a Boswell fundraiser last week listed House Speaker Tim Moore, House Majority Leader John Bell and House Majority Whip Jon Hardister.

Bell had previously said he "has a standing policy not to attend or be involved in any event in a primary contest in which there are two Republican candidates as to avoid any appearance of supporting one candidate over another." A spokesman for Bell did not respond to an email inquiry Monday.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter