GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – After saying Friday afternoon that he was considering his options to debate, Ted Budd, the Republican candidate the U.S. Senate, has agreed to meet Democrat Cheri Beasley, his chief opponent in November, on the debate stage sponsored by Spectrum.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Saturday that Budd’s campaign had reached agreement with Beasley on everything but the date of the event – although sometime in October is the plan.
This emerged after Beasley’s campaign slammed Budd for “flat out refusing to debate” in the proposed event sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, which historically had sponsored the debate. The statement, which came after Budd told WGHP that he was “open to this” and looking at various proposals, noted that the campaign was continuing to negotiate with Spectrum.
Before meeting voters at Kickback Jacks restaurant in Greensboro, Budd had said he probably wasn’t going to accept a debate sponsored by the NCAB that Beasley had accepted two weeks ago. Friday was the deadline extended to Budd after his campaign said there would be no decision about a debate until after Labor Day.
And Jonathan Felts, Budd’s campaign spokesperson, said Friday that he had called the broadcasters to decline.
“I’m open to this,” Budd said when asked about the debate deadline. “We’re looking at options. We have some other options.
“I think the issues are on my side. I don’t know that we will do the broadcasters’ debate, but we’re looking at options.”
Felts shared emails with The News & Observer to show that he sent notice Wednesday to Spectrum News 1’s managing editor Dale McElrath to confirm Budd would debate Beasley on air on Oct. 5.
That email said: “On behalf of the Ted Budd for US Senate campaign, I am happy to accept your invitation for Ted Budd to participate in the Spectrum News Debate on Oct. 5. I would also note, unlike other candidates in this race, we have no objections to the Libertarian and Green Party nominees participating in the debate.”
Felts also told the N&O that the reason the debate had not been announced was because it was realized that Oct. 5 was Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holiday day. Felts said alternate dates/times were proposed by Budd’s campaign.
Beasley’s campaign said it had proposed having the debate on any day between Oct. 10 and Oct. 14 and also on Oct. 18. That remains to be seen.
Dory MacMillan, Beasley’s spokesperson, told the N&O that “Cheri is ready and eager to debate — North Carolinians deserve nothing less.”
It’s also unclear whether the Spectrum has invited Libertarian Shannon Bray or Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh. But Hoh told WGHP in an email that “my campaign has not been contacted about being included in a debate. We, of course, would accept such an invitation.”
Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court; Budd, who has represented the 13th Congressional District since 2016; Bray, a Department of Defense employee; and Hoh, recently certified on the ballot, all want to replace Republican Richard Burr of Winston-Salem, who is retiring after three terms.
The race is considered a toss-up, with FiveThirtyEight’s assimilated tracking poll showing it as even. Civitas, a conservative group that oversees the John Locke Foundation, recently showed the candidates in a dead heat – at 42.3% — with about 12.6% undecided and 1.9% supporting Bray.
A High Point University Poll has shown Democrats with a slight edge on generic ballots. None is outside the margin of error.
Should they debate?
Whether candidates will debate has become a national strategic conversation. Questions about them in various races have emerged in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and elsewhere, with the leader in the polling or an incumbent typically dictating the decision-making.
Budd had declined to participate in four statewide debates when he beat former Gov. Pat McCrory, former Rep. Mark Walker and newcomer Marjorie Eastman – all of whom participated in debates – in a field of 14 to win the GOP nomination in May.
“I think it is a strategic choice by politicians. I think it’s a bad one for democracy,” Chris Cooper, director of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University, told WNCN.
On the trail
Budd has taken his arguments to the people. He has joined Beasley on the campaign trail in the past couple of weeks. Both of them are hopscotching across the state, and each proclaims having visited all 100 counties.
Budd stopped in Davidson County on Thursday morning before working the room at the sports bar Kickback Jacks that included some current and former elected leaders among perhaps 100 or so. He stopped at all the tables and posed for selfies and provided personal touches whenever possible.
There was no microphone, but the room was commanded by the large presence of former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who introduced Budd and outlined the issues facing the local constituency, the statewide focus and the need for a Republican to win the race.
When he took over after about 15 minutes, Budd made it easy: “That’s pretty much my speech,” he said to a round of chuckles.
Then he spent about 10 minutes covering much of the same ground about inflation, immigration, crime and education – the red-meat issues that Republicans everywhere try to keep in the focus.
He talked about fentanyl and illegal border crossings. “All our 100 counties are border counties,” he said.
And in fighting crime he said, “We have to support our law enforcement and not threaten them.”
Abortion and Trump
Two things he didn’t mention to the crowd – at least not in his speech – were issues Republican candidates are repositioning this fall: abortion rights and how to handle issues involving former President Donald Trump.
Before that, under questioning, Budd said that “the Democrats’ position on abortion – for everyone at any stage – is out of touch with North Carolinians.”
Now that decision “has moved from a decision by nine people in 1973 [the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade] to everyone through state legislatures,” he said.
Trump’s endorsement had helped propel Budd to an easy victory in the 14-candidate primary, and Budd has at least to some extent supported Trump’s unfounded claims about a stolen 2020 election. He voted against certification but has qualified his position on election’s outcome.
Budd appeared with Trump during a rally in the summer, but he also in recent weeks has downplayed Trump’s presence on his campaign website. That has been during the investigation about Trump’s possession of top-secret documents at his country-club home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Budd said he has no campaign events planned with Trump but that he “welcomed him into the state.” He indicated no reservations.
About the investigation, he said, “I want transparency. We all want transparency. We don’t want to see the FBI politicized.”