by Eric Ginsburg
Nobody was drinking liberally at the first annual Right Wing Brew Fest.
To be fair, the four-hour event kicked off at 11 a.m., but while local breweries Pig Pounder and Natty Greene’s did provide beer, the only thing getting sauced appeared to be the chicken wings.
A few dozen party faithful gathered at the Guilford County GOP headquarters on West Market Street in Greensboro last week, drawn by the beer, a solid array of wings and the headlining act: Mark Walker and Phil Berger Jr.
The two Republicans — who are quickly approaching a July run-off election for the Republican nomination to fill the Congressional seat being vacated by Howard Coble — showed up to compete in a “wing-off.” Which, to the tremendous disappointment of some, did not mean engaging in a wing-eating contest.
Each candidate’s camp brought a sauce to be added to pre-prepared chicken wings, and though the entries were easily distinguishable, they almost shared a name.
Berger said the hot sauce dousing his wings had been dubbed the “No Amnesty Sauce,” while Walker said his campaign’s orange chipotle sauce was called the “Anti-Amnesty Make a Run for the Border Sauce.” Berger’s campaign has been throwing barbs at Walker’s position on immigration, which Berger argues is too lenient with criminals and that Walker says is being misrepresented.
Greensboro Councilman Zack Matheny, Police Chief Ken Miller and state Rep. John Blust acted as the wing-off’s judges, blindly sampling batches of Walker and Berger’s entries. Berger entered three varieties of his hot sauce, confusing the judges who ended up only being served one version and trying a set of un-sauced wings, too.
“Well, I’ve eaten all three and I haven’t gotten sick yet,” Blust joked. “Was this a right wing or a left wing?”
Matheny, who ran for the same Congressional seat but lost in the primary last month, initially favored Berger’s hotter wings. Walker’s sauce was too sweet, he noted, and while Berger’s sauce was applied too liberally, it might’ve tasted better. And Republican wings, Matheny joked to his fellow judges, should probably have some red heat.
Miller, who said he was a lifelong Republican but is now unaffiliated, preferred the sweeter wings with what initially looked like a teriyaki sauce, and while Blust agreed, he seemed generally disinterested.
“The hot dogs were better than the wings,” he remarked.
The judges ultimately chose Wing Sauce A unanimously (Or was it B? They were too mixed up to tell, but they knew they favored the sweeter sauce), sending Miller up to a small stage to make the announcement.
“I am appointed and not elected, which is probably why the two other judges chickened out,” Miller cracked.
Holding a golden trophy of a goofy-looking chicken inscribed with “Right Wing Brew Fest 2014: King of the Wings,” Walker continued the jokes, concluding his remarks with, “Oh, and special thanks to the Academy and my mom and dad.”
Had Berger — or anyone — been paying more attention to the selection process he might’ve called for a recount, but his attention had already shifted elsewhere and he left not long after.
The puns even continued on Walker’s Facebook page, where a supporter wrote on a photo of the trophy and sauce: “Eat more Walker wings! No more Bergers!”
Despite the significant tension between the Walker and Berger campaigns, the mood at the event remained light, with Blust and Walker cracking jokes and an invitation to drop Paul Norcross into a dunk tank.
Norcross, the former head of the High Point Republican Party, came under fire by other Republicans who criticized his handling of a Coble fundraising dinner, with some alleging the money wound up supporting Berger’s campaign instead of the Guilford County GOP. A party staffer, inviting attendees to buy tickets to try and dunk Norcross, commented that all funds from the tickets and the Right Wing Brew Fest would go towards operational costs of the county party.
Walker eagerly bought six tickets, and as the first one up at the impromptu mound in the parking lot, he nailed his first three throws at the small target, dropping a gleeful Norcross into the tank. The crowd ate it up.
The Berger campaign must have overlooked the fact that he played pitcher for his college baseball team when it was doing oppositional research, Walker laughed.
Marty Kotis, the man behind Pig Pounder craft brewery who has had Berger campaign signs in front of his Marshall Free House restaurant, brought a bevy of his brews to share. Greensboro Councilman Tony Wilkins said Kotis recommended the Extra Special Pig, a medium-bodied English ESB beer, and a cursory sampling of the Pig Pounder beers on hand confirmed its superiority.
The buffet of wings provided by a bounty of restaurants weren’t clearly marked enough to definitively state a winner, but it was difficult to say whether there was a standout in the field anyway. Nobody seemed to mind.
Instead people focused on the Capri Suns, foosball, dunk tank and company, posing for photos with candidates and friends, debating deportation and trying to stay cool on a humid Saturday.