Our View: NC Senate post mortem

NC Senate post mortem


Chowan Herald

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Now that the votes have been cast and the political campaign signs are beginning to fade, maybe its time to offer a few post mortem observations about the Republican primary for NC Senate race for District 1 – one of the hottest in the state.

Our own Bob Steinburg soundly defeated Clark Twiddy, a wealthy businessman from Dare County, the populous place within the 11-county district.

On paper, Steinburg seemed to have an uphill battle against an opponent who was not only actively backed by the outgoing incumbent, Senator Bill Cook, but elements of the GOP establishment.

Moreover, Twiddy was more or less a blank slate who, unlike Steinburg with his full-throated support of the controversial bathroom bill, hadn't made headlines from Kitty Hawk to San Francisco. In Raleigh cloakrooms, Steinburg is known as a “hothead” who doesn't shy away from expressing his opinions, a point that makes liberals squirm and party leaders wince.

“I would hope the voters of the newly formed first Senatorial district would send a clear message that political attacks that do nothing to further our mutually shared goals should not be rewarded,” Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon said. “We need citizens of character that can stand for our Conservative principles without attacking those who might disagree with them. We need someone who is willing to work with the Republican leadership; not against them. We need someone like Clark Twiddy.”

One almost suspects that Twiddy was recruited by party insiders, some of whom don't give a damn about this end of the state, because Steinburg was running. Shame on the GOP.

Twiddy had very deep pockets, so he was able to self fund the vast majority of his campaign, thus freeing him up from the taxing task of tending to the rubber chicken circuit to pursue the funds needed to pursue this grand venture. Let's not forget, when Cook ran for office in 2016, he raised more than $723,000 needed to keep his senate seat.

Steinburg had some strengths that deserve some ink. First, Steinburg is serving his third-term representing NC House District 1, so he knows the political players and many of the voters on a first-name basis across the six counties he's been serving in the northeastern end of the Tarheel State.

Love him or hate him, nobody doubts where Steinburg stands on the issues. He is conservative to the core and is proud to consider himself as perhaps a modern day Jesse Helms, a former U.S. Senator who was a legend to many because he stood up to the liberal loons and the sometimes weak-kneed GOP establishment.

Steinburg's donor list was a veritable who's who of major players from across Chowan County and the region. Though that list included town council leaders, county commissioners and civic leaders, it also included many small donors who would spread Steinburg's message near and far. Based on donor lists, Twiddy didn't have that kind of support – not even in Dare County.

Steinburg is a talented public speaker. That's not to say that Twiddy doesn't have the skills needed to talk to people in a crowded room, only that Steinburg is the kind of speaker who doesn't need notes, but speaks with conviction from the heart.

During the heat of the take-a-knee nonsense afflicting overpaid professional athletes, Steinburg didn't drop a beat when speaking to a packed crowd at the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse.

“We have some who think it is cool or in vogue to not stand when saluting our flag and not sing the National Anthem – to turn their backs on it. That is sad for many reasons, but the most important reason is, if we do not honor the flag which represents everything this nation stands for and the Constitution, then we are not even honoring and protecting their right to do what they have chosen to do. That's what that document is,” Steinburg said during his keynote speech for the Edenton Tea Party NSDAR's Constitution Day program last fall.

Twiddy's campaign was placed on the defensive time after time for making donations to Democrats including Roy Cooper, a governor and longtime politico who is reviled in some circles almost as much as former President Obama.

When Twiddy or Cook made charges about what they considered as Steinburg's inability to work well and play well with others, Steinburg very skillfully deflected those charges by saying he was his own man, a leader of principle who doesn't contribute sizable donations to liberal Democrats. Steinburg was disciplined and on message time after time.

Moreover, Steinburg skillfully used the media that he derides as liberal, with some justification, to convey his message. Reporters from Raleigh to Nags Head were on a first name basis with Steinburg. He was quick with a quote no matter where or when. The prison system debacle and Steinburg's phrase – “secret society” – made him a household name.

Beyond the mainstream media, Steinburg quickly became adept at social media by posting frequent updates and fireside chat type videos to Facebook. This allowed voters to directly connect with Steinburg.

In the end, Steinburg won 9 of 11 counties by very convincing margins. Twiddy defeated Steinburg by only 630 votes in his stronghold, Dare County, and by a scant 35 votes in Currituck.

The GOP primary is over. Next stop is the November general election where the contest will be between Steinburg and Democrat D. Cole Phelps.

Phelps wouldn't have been courted by the NC Democratic Party to run if they didn't think he was able to win the election.

A lawyer, Phelps is comfortable with a good stump speech and as a Washington County Commissioner, he has demonstrated a proven ability to connect with the voters. Phelps, 29, has that eye of the tiger drive to win this race as shown by his willingness to meet with political party leaders and potential voters though the Democratic primary was virtually uncontested. He's crisscrossed Chowan County multiple times among other places near and far across District 1.

Despite the media generated illusion of a “blue wave” of upcoming Democratic electoral success, the country is as divided as ever and northeastern North Carolina generally trends conservative. Democrats may point to the longheld reign of former NC Senator Marc Basnight as evidence that with the right candidate, they can reclaim this end of the state. However, Basnight was a centrist politico who worked with Republicans when it advanced the interests of his district.

The November general election is not going to be an easy election for either candidate. Beyond the political party brand names, posturing and labels, the candidate who wants to win is going to have to make his case to the voters that he will represent the best interests of northeastern North Carolina.