6th District GOP candidates feud over Petty, other endorsements

6th District GOP candidates Christian Castelli (left) and former Rep. Mark Walker (right) are shown in this combination image. Walker photo via AP

RALEIGH — An endorsement by NASCAR legend Richard Petty of a North Carolina 6th District Congressional candidate making the rounds on social media and in campaign mailers is not current: it’s from 2022, according to members of the Petty family.

A video of Petty endorsing Christian Castelli was first posted to Castelli’s Facebook campaign page on Aug. 24, 2022.

The First Freedom Foundation Facebook post featuring Richard Petty is shown.

That same video appeared Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, on the Facebook page of the “First Freedoms Foundation,” a Washington, D.C.-based PAC that only raised $2,000 in 2023. The reposted video, unlike the original, now bears new graphics, including a “Christian Castelli for Congress” banner at the bottom.

On Castelli’s official campaign page, the same Petty video is found at the end of his 2024 endorsements list. The same video is also found in the 2022 endorsement list.

In recent days, the campaign itself has also touted the endorsement in direct mail to expected primary voters.

North State Journal received a statement from the Petty family via Rebecca Petty Moffitt in the evening hours of Feb. 24 refuting any endorsement for the March 5 primary.

“Richard Petty has not endorsed any candidate for the 2024 Republican primary,” the Petty family statement says. “Richard is a life-long conservative and has always been heavily involved in Republican politics but he has not made any primary endorsements in this election.”

In response to a North State Journal inquiry about Moffitt’s statement, Castelli said in a phone interview that he didn’t think the Petty camp understood the situation.

“Well, they don’t know much about politics,” said Castelli. “I’ve been in this primary for, you know, a very long time, and when he renewed, and I guess they think we’re in the primary window now in the next two weeks, they renewed their endorsement of me months ago. It was like six or eight months ago – That was the primary season.”

He added “Like I said, I don’t think they really understand. But she can issue whatever statement she wants. That’s her prerogative.”

“I don’t want to ruin my relationship with the Pettys, obviously, but I don’t want to be made to look like a liar or stupid either,” Castelli said, adding that he had texted Moffitt about the media inquiries he was now receiving and claimed he had received the NASCAR legend’s “continued endorsement” not long after the November 2022 election at an event held at Victory Junction.

Castelli said of the Victory Junction event that he “spent time with Richard, took a photo with him, and told him I was running again and wanted his continued endorsement and claims the racing said, “You got it. Go get them, tiger.”

Castelli provided two emails between Moffitt and himself to North State Journal.

The first email, dated Dec. 11, 2023, thanked her father for his 2022 endorsement and “his renewed support.”

“Just to refresh your memory, your father told me I had his renewed endorsement at the Bikes for Kids event when I asked him for it again,’ Castelli wrote. “He said ‘you got it and go get em’.”

A press release from the Castelli campaign dated the same day as Castelli’s email to Moffitt, said Petty endorsed him in the competitive GOP primary over the five other candidates running.

Moffitt had responded the following day on Dec. 12, 2023, with a single line that read “Great news. Good Luck and Merry Christmas.”

On Feb. 2, 2024, Castelli emailed Moffitt about having her father do a paid GOTV (get out the vote) call. Moffitt responded on Feb. 8, turning the request down by stating “Dad is going to pass on this because it is so close to primary. Thanks for thinking of him.”

He also blamed an opponent, former Congressman Mark Walker, for issues in the race, and said there was nothing to question.

“I want to make this perfectly clear to you and everybody else is going to question me on this or question my integrity: There is nothing to question here,” said Castelli. “Everything was fine. Until Mark Walker dropped out of the governor’s race. He jumped into my house race in October after we were redistricted from a D+8 to an R+11.”

Castelli also said Walker is “probably causing the problem now because all of his endorsements have fallen through,” and went on to claim Walker did not have the endorsements from certain members of Congress that he claims to have including House Speaker Mike Johnson, and two endorsements in the past week; Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis and New York Rep. Claudia Tenney.

“And so once again, this is all because Mark Walker is violating his term limits pledge,” Castelli said. ” [He] dropped out of the governor’s race and jumped into this house race. He’s the one with the integrity issues, not me.”

“I’s disgusting petty politics, you know,” said Castelli. “No pun intended because we’re talking about Richard but this is the kind of stuff that I have no patience for…have no tolerance for these kinds of shenanigans.”

North State Journal offered Walker a chance to respond to Castelli’s remarks and Walker said he also had the documentation to back up his over 60 endorsements while also acknowledging that some positions had changed.

Walker gave an example of House Speaker Mike Johnson telling him last September, “In his own words, said ‘We need you back’.” Just after he became speaker, things changed slightly… his new staff get involved and said, ‘Look, he’s going to need to move to neutral.’ We get it, we understood it, and never put his name in print. We weren’t asked to delete the tweet when we first put it out there, I believe October 27th,” said Walker. “That happens at times, different positions, but we’ve been truthful and we can prove every single endorsement we’ve had.”

To back his claims, Walker provided North State Journal screen captures of text conversations with Johnson, as well as Bilirakis and Tenney.

“Now come to find out, Gus Bilirakis represented Castelli’s brother, who’s a pastor down there. His brother called,” Walker said about Bilirakis’ change in endorsement position. “Gus was great about it. Gus said, “Hey, I didn’t know this guy’s has become an issue. I can’t go forward,” and I said not a problem, your name comes off the list there.”

Walker added, “But it’s one thing for Castelli to say this never happened. It’s a completely different thing for me to say, “Yes, it did happen,” and there were a couple of two or three extenuating circumstances.”

“But the narrative here that Castelli is trying to create that’s false is trying to deflect the exaggeration of these endorsements that never endorsed him in this race. He’s trying to deflect it on a situation,” said Walker. “The problem that he has is I have 100% concrete proof that everything I’ve said is actually true when it comes to the support of these Members or these other organizations.”

Walker took issue with Castelli’s claim that Walker has integrity issues or violated a term limit pledge.

“He keeps trying to deflect, again, when questioned about that,” Walker said.

“I was blessed to have opportunities, and after four years at the time, or what would have been four years into three years with Miss Manning before she made any decision, rather than this district being represented by a Democrat as progressive as Kathy Manning,” said Walker. “And Chris Castelli not able to win the seat… there is nothing in that clause that violates any kind of integrity issue of running back.”

Walked said the “whole premise of term limits” is after a certain amount of time one finds another way to serve and that “I think this is a Castelli issue more than a 6th district or North Carolina issue.”

Walker went on to say one of the reasons he did not run for the seat last cycle was that he had promised to help Castelli. However, he said “that district no longer exists,” adding “Why Castelli feels like that he’s the one entitled to this seat makes no sense whatsoever.”

“As we’re getting ready to see, I think the voters obviously are the ones that get to make the decision, not the candidates as far as who gets to represent,” said Walker. “And maybe that’s just the cultural thing with Castelli being a New York native that lives, you know, 80 miles from any of the town seats in the six counties. Maybe that’s just his perspective and not really understanding that people take a lot of pride in selecting their candidates and not the candidates being able to choose who represents them.”

Similar to the Petty situation, the same is true for Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson; he endorsed Castelli in a 2022 video but has not done so in 2024.

Both Petty and Robinson endorsed Castelli in the 2022 general election, a race he lost 54%-45% to Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning. Castelli won a seven-way GOP primary in 2022 with 36% of the v0te, edging out the 2020 GOP District 6 nominee, Lee Haywood, who finished with 34%.

Last month, the same PAC involved in disseminating the 2022 Petty endorsement video was called out by Robinson for falsely claiming the lieutenant governor had endorsed Castelli for the March 5 Primary.

“A Washington, D.C. PAC is circulating a video falsely claiming to announce an endorsement by Lt. Governor Mark Robinson in North Carolina’s Sixth District Republican primary,” Robinson posted on X. “This claim is false; the DC super PAC is taking video from a previous election cycle and wrongly presenting it as an endorsement in this year’s race.”

While the main address for First Freedoms Foundation is in Washington, D.C., the group’s donation page directs donors wishing to send a check to a P.O. Box 10142 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The FEC shows the treasurer for the PAC is “Paul Kilgore” with an Athens, Georgia address. Per a search of the FEC website, Kilgore’s name appears as “treasurer, no less than 55 times in connection with various PACs, funds, and candidates.