U.S. Sen. Richard Burr on Thursday strongly denied a news report that said he had told people he would vote for Democrat Bernie Sanders over Republican Ted Cruz.
Burr’s aides asked The Associated Press for a retraction. An AP spokesman said the news agency was sticking by its story.
“I will support whoever the GOP nominee is,” Burr tweeted. “@AP is trying to create discord where there isn't discord by telling lies.”
Burr was responding to an AP story by reporter Erica Werner about Cruz’s unpopularity with fellow Republican senators.
The story said, “Cruz has become such a pariah that one of his colleagues, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, told supporters at a campaign fundraiser … that he would vote for liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders for president before Cruz, according to one person who attended the event.
“Burr did not appear to be joking, said the person, who demanded anonymity to discuss the private gathering,” the article stated.
Alex Johnson, Burr’s director of strategic operations, called the report “completely inaccurate.”
“They’re trying to create discord where there’s no discord,” he said. “(Burr) told (the AP) Ted Cruz would make a great chief executive. He’s said time and time again he will support the nominee.”
But AP did not back down.
“As we have told Sen. Burr’s campaign, we stand by our story,” said Paul Colford, AP’s vice president and director of media relations.
Burr faces a March 15 primary against three other Republicans. One, Greg Brannon, wasted little time in responding to the article.
He issued a news release headlined, “Burr goes full Socialist – threatens to vote for Bernie Sanders over Cruz.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee gleefully included the AP story in an email.
Burr consultant Paul Shumaker said the candidate has pledged to support whichever Republican wins the nomination.
Colin Campbell of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed