A website put up by Cawthorn’s campaign to target Moe Davis, his Democratic opponent, claimed that watchdog reporter Tom Fiedler was working with Davis allies and left a job in academia to “work for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office,” according to an archived page of the site.
In a statement responding to Booker’s interview, Cawthorn campaign spokesman John Hart said, “Cory Booker knows better."
Hart criticized Davis, accusing him of being divisive, and then added that Cawthorn “looks forward to working with Sen. Booker when he’s elected to Congress.”
Cawthorn, 25, is considered a rising Republican star and in June beat a candidate endorsed by President Trump. He is vying for the seat in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District left vacant by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
In a statement issued after the racist smear was first reported by TheBulwark.com, Cawthorn said the language on the website was meant to be about the reporter’s politics and he called it a “syntax” error.
“The syntax of our language was unclear and unfairly implied I was criticizing Cory Booker,” the statement said. “My concerns were never with Cory Booker but Tom Fiedler who I believe is more of a political operative than a journalist based on his pattern of biased reporting.”
Fiedler, a former dean of the Boston University College of Communication, volunteered for Booker’s 2020 presidential campaign. Fiedler helps run a nonprofit news site in North Carolina, AVL Watchdog, that has written critically about Cawthorn.
The language on the website was changed to remove the claim that Fiedler worked against White men and replaced with language that claims that the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is “an unapologetic defender of left-wing identity politics.”
Booker told HuffPost he took the language initially written on the site personally because he had spent time in the district and his “dad worked in that district. My dad is from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and I know the grace and goodness of that district.”
Booker also linked Cawthorn’s “rank racism” to the “kind of vicious, degrading, demeaning streams within the Republican Party that they should ― not we should ― the Republican Party should reject. … 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.”
On Friday, Davis tweeted out a New York Times article about the smear and said the district “deserves better than a habitual lying racist.”
Cawthorn also defended himself against accusations of racism earlier this year.
In August, before he spoke at the Republican National Convention, Democrats questioned a social media post from a visit to the Eagle’s Nest, Adolf Hitler’s chalet in southern Germany. Cawthorn wrote the location had been “on my bucket list for years. And it did not disappoint.”
But he dismissed the criticism, telling the Associated Press that he thinks “racism is disgusting.” Cawthorn, who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair after a 2014 car accident, also said “these cowards … would have killed me,” referring to Nazis.
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.