Barbecue battles at forefront of NC political debates

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest with supporters at Parker's Barbecue in Wilson.

RALEIGH – A pair stories about barbecue have ignited debates in North Carolina politics this week.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham was met with near-universal derision after a Monday night tweet that has has attracted national attention.

U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham

“There’s nothing better than BBQ—except for winning this Senate seat, of course,” reads a tweet from Cunningham, accompanied by a photo of the former state senator wearing a campaign-branded apron and standing next to a grill at his house in Raleigh.

Twitter users quickly noted that Cunningham’s photo featured a gas grill – not what traditionally is used to cook North Carolina barbecue, and hot dog and hamburger buns while the grill appeared to not actually be on.

“Like who wrote this tweet?” said former Democratic state Rep. Tricia Cotham in response to Cunningham’s post on the social media site.

Democrats and Republicans appeared to be united in their questioning of Cunningham. Republican Congressman Mark Walker chimed in, saying, “#BBQGate could be worse than we thought. Is the grill even on, @CalforNC? NC needs answers.”

Also this week, Raleigh television station WRAL aired a report following a photo submitted by an Asheville resident claiming to show employees at venerable Wilson barbecue restaurant Parker’s Barbecue of some employees not wearing face coverings in the restaurant’s kitchen.

Eric Lippard, one of the co-owners of the restaurants, later told WRAL that employees are subject to temperature checks before they enter work and that the restaurant has had no known cases of COVID-19 among its staff.

Immediately following the report, residents packed Parker’s to show support and a Facebook group titled “I Support Parker’s Barbecue!” quickly gained over 20,000 members.

Among those dining at Parker’s included U.S. Sen Thom Tillis, who has called on Parker’s in the past when he had the restaurant cater lunch for GOP senators in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running for governor against incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, went to the restaurant on Tuesday.

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Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected].