RALEIGH, NC (TAUT) — In competitive races across the US, Republican candidates are moving away from their party’s most controversial policies and people — namely abortion and former President Donald Trump — as Election Day approaches.
Not Ted Bud.
North Carolina’s GOP Senate nominee leans on support for abortion restrictions and friendship with the former Republican president as Democrats fight for an elusive southern swing state victory.
Democratic optimism remains dampened given the state’s recent red bias, but Democratic officials believe that Budd, a low-profile congressman who emerged as a GOP Senate candidate largely thanks to Trump’s support, gives them a real chance at a chair to turn – and maintain the balance of power in Washington – this fall.
His critics aside, Budd will appear next to Trump Friday night at a rally in Wilmington. The Budd campaign was eager to welcome Trump when the former president’s team called, adviser Jonathan Felts said.
“Trump won North Carolina twice, and a personal rally is helpful,” Felts said, suggesting Trump would help boost turnout, especially “with unaffiliated and/or undecided voters concerned about the economy.”
Others are not so sure.
“The more Trump shows up, the more Trump is in the news, the better for Democrats,” said David Holian, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Trump does indeed remain overwhelmingly popular with Republican voters, but is less attractive to the moderates and independents who often decide swing-state elections. Trump’s nationally favorable ratings have been about equal to or worse than President Joe Biden’s in recent weeks.
Yet some Democrats in North Carolina are far from confident in a state where they have suffered painful losses in recent years.
Democratic skepticism comes despite the apparent strength of their Senate candidate, former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Cheri Beasley, who has a clear fundraising advantage, has set a record of outperforming other Democrats in elections over the entire state and a moderate message. If elected, she would be the state’s first black senator.
Yet Beasley also runs counter to the negative perceptions of her party.
Trump’s rise has sparked a growing awareness among some voters in North Carolina, along with those in many other states, that the national Democratic Party has lost touch with the daily struggles of the working class and similar voting blocs. For example, the Democrat-controlled Congress’s focus on climate change hasn’t helped inspire voters like Talmage Layton, a 74-year-old farmer from Durham.
Layton said he doesn’t know if a Democrat in North Carolina can make a difference on Capitol Hill by cutting gas prices or pushing back against climate change policies that other Democrats have embraced.
“That’s nothing against Cheri Beasley,” Layton said after a recent meeting with Beasley. “I’m a registered Democrat and I wouldn’t mind voting for a Democrat. But they need to think about the little guy here.”
Not long ago, it seemed that the Democratic Party was about to take over North Carolina politics.
In 2008, Obama carried the state, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1976, and Democrat Kay Hagan upset GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole. Political pundits predicted that the Democratic Party would gain the upper hand as a result of increasing urbanization and out-of-state liberals moving into the Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte regions for tech jobs.
But Republicans took over the state legislature for the first time in more than 140 years after the 2010 election and retained it thanks to the support of voters in suburban and rural and favorably drawn districts. A decade later, Trump became a two-time winner of North Carolina, even though he won the 2020 election by just 1 percentage point.
While Democratic Governor Roy Cooper managed to win reelection in 2020, Beasley was one of the party’s victims. She lost a bid to remain chief justice to a Republican rival by just 401 votes.
Her near miss turned her into an up and coming candidate in the race to succeed in retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr.
As a sign of strength, Beasley has consistently raised more money than Budd. And she seems to be building momentum by using abortion to energize women and independents, relying on the same playbook that Democrats have used elsewhere.
Budd, meanwhile, has been outspoken in his opposition to abortion. He co-sponsored a House version of a national 15-week abortion ban introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, which even Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell distanced himself from.
“My opponent has been in Congress for six years, and every chance he’s had to vote for North Carolina, he’s voted against us,” Beasley continued after meeting farmers at a vegetable market in Durham before Graham’s bill was introduced.
Meanwhile, in competitive elections in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona, Republicans have moved away from their rigidly anti-abortion stances in recent weeks. Others have stripped their websites of references to Trump or his favorite topics of conversation.
In Virginia, a Republican House candidate removed a Trump reference from her Twitter bio. In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc came back abruptly last week when asked about Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen. After repeating Trump’s lies for much of the past year, Bolduc told TAUT News he’d done more research and concluded, “The election wasn’t stolen.”
Meanwhile, Budd’s campaign declined this week to say whether he would accept the 2022 election results, having already voted to block certification of the 2020 election.
Such views will almost certainly appeal to Trump’s grassroots, but political operatives say Budd needs significant support from moderate, independent voters to be successful. Unaffiliated voters surpassed Democrats this year to become the largest bloc of registered voters in the state.
“Regardless of your religious background, you are dealing with skyrocketing energy prices. You are dealing with high grocery costs. You deal with a lot of crime. You’re dealing with economic uncertainty,” Budd said after speaking with pastors in Greenville recently. “And so I want to make the lives of all North Carolinians and the people of our country better through the things I support.”
Since Budd has struggled to keep up with Beasley’s fundraising efforts, outside groups have come to his rescue.
The McConnell-aligned Senate leadership fund and the National Republican Senators’ Committee together spent $17.3 million on advertising against Beasley, according to Federal Election Commission documents. The Senate Majority Fund, which supports Democratic candidates, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have spent nearly $4 million in North Carolina while investing much more in high-profile contests in states like Pennsylvania and Arizona.
“We are committed to ensuring that voters continue to see and hear the truth about Ted Budd,” said Veronica Woo, spokesperson for the Senate Majority Fund.
A branch of the pro-abortion rights EMILY’s List announced this month that it would spend $2.7 million to criticize Budd over abortion as well.
During a recent stop at Perkins Orchard in Durham, Beasley chatted with farmers who gathered around picnic tables and near fresh pumpkins for sale. Some said afterwards that they were glad to see her interest in their plight.
Jason Lindsay, 34, a first-generation black farmer from Rocky Mount, said he is frustrated by the divisions in the political environment but encouraged by Beasley.
“Her temper here today gave me the first sign of hope I’ve had in a long time,” he said.
Peoples contributed from New York.