Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Sunday slammed North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn after he attacked his Democratic opponent with what appeared to be a racist smear that also accused the Black senator of aiming “to ruin white males.”
“It just really personally saddens me that somebody who is so clearly racist is a nominee of a major party, and I think it’s a disrespect of the entire community,” Booker told HuffPost in an interview Sunday. “It’s really unfortunate.”
Cawthorn, 25, is a white GOP candidate whom President Donald Trump and national Republicans have backed; he spoke at the Republican National Convention in August. He’s favored to win the race for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, a rural seat previously held by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Earlier this week, Cawthorn’s campaign put up a website slamming his Democratic opponent, Moe Davis, alleging that a Pulitzer Prize-winning local journalist, Tom Fiedler, worked with Davis allies. He described Fiedler, who is white, as working for “non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males.” (Davis is also white.)
Cawthorn later claimed in a statement the website contained a “syntax error” that was “unclear and unfairly implied I was criticizing Cory Booker.” The website now calls Fiedler “an unapologetic defender of left-wing identity politics,” according to The Washington Post.
But Booker — who accused Trump of regularly hitting him and other Black members of Congress with racist stereotypes — said he took the attack from Cawthorn’s campaign personally because he spent time in the district when he was younger.
“My dad worked in that district. My dad is from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and I know the grace and goodness of that district,” Booker told HuffPost.
The New Jersey senator connected Cawthorn’s “rank racism” to a broader trend within the GOP under Trump, including its increasing support by white supremacist groups and the bonkers conspiracy theory QAnon, which Republican incumbents in the Senate are actively courting.
“It speaks of the kind of vicious, degrading, demeaning streams within the Republican Party that they should ― not we should ― the Republican Party should reject,” Booker said. “It’s tearing their party apart and delegitimizing them in the face of our country, and for him to be the nominee is really unfortunate.”
The controversy over Cawthorn’s campaign website isn’t the first time he has had to defend himself against accusations of racism.
In August, photos emerged of his 2017 visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation house in Germany, known as the Eagle’s Nest. Cawthorn wrote that the location had been “on my bucket list for years. And it did not disappoint.”
He added: “Strange to hear so many laughs and share such a good time with my brother where only 79 years ago a supreme evil shared laughs and good times with his compatriots.”
Davis’ campaign recently reported an internal poll that showed the Democrat with a slight lead over Cawthorn. The district leans Republican ― Meadows held it for eight years ― but redistricting has made it more competitive for Democrats.
Cawthorn’s campaign said Booker should also be concerned by Davis’ rhetoric from last year saying he wanted to “stomp” on the necks of GOP “extremists.”
“Cory Booker knows better,” Cawthorn spokesman John Hart said in a statement. “Madison Cawthorn has repeatedly used the national stage to condemn racism, promote equality and defend the American and MLK’s dream. He looks forward to working with Sen. Booker when he’s elected to Congress.”
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter