RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A group working to get Republicans elected to the Senate has revealed itself to be behind a series of ads promoting a Democrat in North Carolina’s primary.
In documents filed with the Federal Election Commission late Thursday, the Senate Leadership Fund said it’s been behind Faith and Power PAC, which began running ads earlier this month in support of Democrat Erica Smith. The filings show the group put $3 million into Faith and Power PAC.
Smith has trailed frontrunner Cal Cunningham in polling and fundraising. Both are among five candidates vying to be the party’s nominee to take on Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in November. Smith is currently a state senator. Cunningham previously served in the state Senate as well as in the military.
Smith said she believed the ads were an effort to boost her campaign because Republicans believe Tillis may be more likely to win against her than Cunningham in November.
“I think that they were believing that we will show that this candidate is the weaker candidate against Senator Thom Tillis. And, I believe that that is a direct attack,” she said.
After filing the updated information with the FEC, the Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), released a statement about why they ran the ads.
“We stole a page out of Chuck Schumer’s playbook, and it’s been more successful than we could have imagined. Democrats are burning cash in a $13 million rescue mission for Cal Cunningham, who has proven to be a lackluster candidate with less money in the bank today than the beginning of the year,” said Senate Leadership Fund President Steven Law in a statement.
In a statement Friday morning, Cal Cunningham said: “Mitch McConnell meddled in our state’s election to try to mislead voters, and it’s clear why — he knows Thom Tillis has failed North Carolinians by every measure and he’s terrified to face me in November.”
When the ads began appearing on television, Smith said she was surprised and denounced them in an interview with CBS 17.
“They were not authorized to represent us, our issues, our platform,” she said.
Outside groups have spent millions of dollars on advertisements in this year’s Senate primary. One Super PAC, Carolina Blue, formed earlier this month and wrote in FEC filings that it’s spent $4.5 million to help Cunningham.
VoteVets also has been heavily promoting Cal Cunningham and his record of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group’s spending surpassed $5 million earlier this month.
Jon Soltz, chair of VoteVets said: “Republicans are now admitting that they’re trying to throw the Democratic primary because they’re scared that Cal Cunningham will beat Thom Tillis. And they’re right. He will beat Thom Tillis, and send the GOP back into the minority, because unlike Thom Tillis, Cal Cunningham has backbone, and believes in loyalty to America and our great Constitution, not Donald Trump.”
Thom Tillis’s campaign says it hasn’t been involved in the actions of Faith and Power PAC.
“Cal Cunningham will say anything to distract from the fact that he’s needed $15 million in spending to rescue him from Erica Smith in a primary that has already highlighted that there is no difference between his policies and the radical, liberal agenda of the national Democratic Party,” said Tillis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo. “Our campaign has no knowledge of Faith and Power PAC and its structure other than what we have learned through news reports, though it appears to be a play out of the Democratic playbook from when they were spending millions of dollars trying to defeat Senator Tillis in the 2014 Republican Primary.
“We’re focused on keeping North Carolina out of the hands of the socialists that Cunningham and Smith have already vowed to support for president.”
Meredith College political analyst said this kind of activity is something he expects to see more often in the coming years.
“We saw the (Kay) Hagan campaign do a little bit of this back in 2014 to try to affect the Republican nominating process when Thom Tillis was nominated and ultimately won the campaign. We’ve seen this in Nevada. We’ve seen this in Missouri,” McLennan said. “So, I think we’re going to see this more and more play out, given the stakes of politics these days, how important people see these particular races.”
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