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With every seat in the legislature up for grabs, campaign season was in full swing as Hurricane Florence approached North Carolina early last week.
Now, some Democratic legislative candidates are attacking Republican candidates for holding campaign events in the days before Florence made landfall — and the Republicans are firing back.
On Sept. 12, when Florence was a Category 4 hurricane, Republican state Sen. Vickie Sawyer held a luncheon with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest at Trump National Golf Course in Mooresville. Sawyer represents Gaston, Iredell and Lincoln counties northwest of Charlotte — which was not considered to be in the direct path of the storm. She was appointed to the seat in early August after Sen. David Curtis lost his primary and stepped down.
Trump asked about the course on Wednesday when he visited North Carolina to assess the damage from Florence.
On Sept. 11, Republican state Rep. Bob Steinburg held a fundraiser in Edenton with state Senate leader Phil Berger at Pembroke Hall. Steinburg represents Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Tyrrell counties in northeastern North Carolina. On Sept. 12, he canceled an event scheduled for Sept. 13.
The hurricane reached North Carolina on Sept. 14.
D. Cole Phelps, Steinburg’s Democratic opponent, said he suspended his campaign activities before Florence arrived and criticized Steinburg for not doing the same.
“I care too much about my constituents, family and friends to be out raising money while they fear for their safety and prepare for this hurricane,” Phelps told The N&O in an email last week. “We shouldn’t be holding campaign events but instead should be looking out for each other at this time.”
Steinburg called Phelps’ statement a “cheap political attack” and said, “this kid should be ashamed of himself, he needs to grow up.” In a phone interview, Steinburg noted that the hurricane hadn’t arrived when he held his fundraiser.
“We didn’t press anybody to be there and we didn’t put anyone in jeopardy,” he said.
Sawyer struck a similar tone in response to her Democratic opponent, Beniah McMiller. McMiller suspended campaign activities on Sept. 10, he told The N&O in an email last week.
“Campaigning during the campaign season is one thing; however, to do so during a crisis is unacceptable.,” McMiller told The N&O. “Our first thought should be about the safety of constituents. Instead, they have once again put themselves first by deciding to hold a fundraiser while many constituents were preparing for the worst.”
Forest didn’t respond to a request for comment. Sawyer, for her part, said the event was scheduled months in advance and that “everything that could be done in preparation for Florence was already in progress.”
She said McMiller’s “effort to score cheap political points off of a statewide disaster reeks of opportunism at the worst and poor judgment at the best,” adding, “We had no idea Mr. McMiller had suspended his campaign, but in fairness, there’s been no evidence of late he was even running one.”