RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With polling showing a tight race for North Carolina’s Senate seat and still two months to go, millions of dollars are pouring into the state in an attempt to influence voters.
Recent surveys of voters have shown Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd in a dead heat as they face off to replace retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), began running new attack ads this week against Beasley, calling attention to contributions from “PACs, lawyers and lobbyists.” The group has booked more than $27 million in airtime leading up to November.
During a campaign stop in Durham on Wednesday, Beasley pushed back.
“I have never accepted corporate PAC money and made that vow at the beginning of this campaign cycle,” she said. “The reality is the SLF is spending millions of dollars against me to attack my judicial reputation and they only spend that kind of money when they know we can be successful in this race.”
Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University, said Wednesday the race has “changed fundamentally” in recent months, especially after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
“Six months ago we thought that, ‘Sure, it’s a purple state but given the broader political context, Ted Budd is going to run away with this thing.’ That is not what we’re seeing,” Cooper said. “You’ve got yourself a midterm that may defy the history and may not in fact be a red wave, perhaps a red ripple at most?”
Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group, is not spending in North Carolina on the scale that the Senate Leadership Fund is.
A group spokesperson said it’s spent more than $3.5 million so far this year on TV ads, some that defend Beasley and others that target Budd. It has not committed to spending beyond that but said it could place additional ad reservations.
“The national Democratic Party seemed to want to put their money behind defense rather than offense. This is a seat that’s held by Republicans. So, Democrats said all we have to do is hold on to our current seats. We don’t need any new ones,” said Cooper. “The math is changing slightly as the circumstances change.”
Cooper said he thinks it’s unlikely spending on this race will exceed the record from 2020 when more than $300 million was spent on that race between Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham.
It’s uncertain whether there will be a debate this year between Beasley and Budd. Cooper said that puts “an increased premium” on ads and fundraising.
Beasley has accepted an invitation by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters to participate in a televised debate. Budd has not yet said if he’ll attend. The NCAB extended its deadline for him to respond. Budd has previously said he would wait until after Labor Day to make a decision. He did not participate in debates during the Republican primary.
“We’ll be talking as a team, ours to theirs, and certainly open to that discussion,” Budd recently told CBS 17.
Budd has recently gone after Beasley for distancing herself from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. When the vice president was in Durham for events last week, Beasley did not attend. Polling has shown a majority of North Carolina voters disapproving of Biden’s job performance.
(Click here to view: https://www.highpoint.edu/blog/2022/09/hpu-poll-presidential-approval-at-32-governor-approval-at-44-in-north-carolina/)
Beasley said Wednesday she had a “long-standing commitment” the day of the vice president’s visit.
When asked whether she wants Biden and Harris to campaign with her, she said, “I’m not aware of what their schedules are. We are 62 days, I think, away from Election Day. So, we’re going to continue to run our race here in North Carolina.”