‘A stunning figure’: Outside spending on NC’s US Senate, House races approaches $250 million

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Outside groups have spent nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on North Carolina’s races for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

CBS17.com compiled those outside spending figures for the Senate race and the state’s 13 Congressional races from a database at OpenSecrets.org, a website published by the non-profit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Most recently, a Republican SuperPAC earlier this week disclosed that it’s spending more than $2 million to oppose Democratic challenger Patricia Timmons-Goodson in the 8th District race against Republican incumbent Richard Hudson.

The total of $224 billion does not include money spent by the candidates or their campaigns — only from groups or people independent of and not coordinated with those committees — and includes the entire 2020 cycle, from the primary elections in March through the general election Nov. 3.

“One simple reason why a lot of outside groups spend this much money is just because they can,” said Asher Hildebrand — an associate professor at Duke University and the former chief of staff for Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina, who in 2012 directed policy and research in the state for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Hildebrand called it “really a stunning figure.”

“Races that were once seen as safe bets for Republicans are now looking newly competitive for Democrats, and the money is following based on how competitive they are,” he said.

Of course, the majority of that spending has been focused on the Senate race between Republican incumbent Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.

Nearly $200 million has been spent by outside groups on those two candidates — either in support of, or in opposition to, them — and seven groups have spent at least $10 million apiece on the race, helping make it the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history.

In the state’s congressional races, outside spending ranges from as low as $10 on the entirety of some races — the Sierra Club Independent Action group spent that much in support of Deborah Ross in the 2nd District — to millions of dollars on others.

The pro-Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, which describes itself as a single-purpose SuperPAC dedicated to winning a GOP majority in the House of Representatives, said it will spend $2 million to oppose Timmons-Goodson.

Redrawing the 8th District’s border has made it more competitive, with attack ads recently airing against both candidates. Hudson’s campaign labeled Timmons-Goodson as soft on crime during her time as an appellate judge and a Democratic group blasted Hudson for missing a vote on a defense spending bill while he was quarantining after coming into contact with someone who had COVID-19.

In all, outside groups have spent roughly $6 million on that race, according to the OpenSecrets database. Hildenbrand called it “at best a second-tier House race.”

Big dollars — nearly $5 million in all, including the primary races — have also flowed from outside into the 11th District race between Democrat Moe Davis and Republican Madison Cawthorn. The CLF has spent $952,000 to oppose Davis in the race to replace White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and represent the district in the western tip of the state.

“Each group is making calculations both about where its investment can have the most impact — whether that’s a vulnerable candidate, a promising challenger, a race that starts to get very competitive late in the day,” Hildenbrand said. “But it’s also about making some judgments about where the money’s most needed.”

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