RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Here’s perhaps the simplest explanation for how Republican Ted Budd claimed North Carolina’s open seat in the U.S. Senate: He helped turn many of the state’s reddest counties even redder — while also flipping a handful of blue ones.
In many ways, it’s the same path former President Donald Trump took two years ago when he won the state’s 15 electoral votes — only, Budd’s victory may have come even more convincingly.
Budd earned 50.7 percent of votes to 47.1 percent for Democratic rival Cheri Beasley on Tuesday night in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr.
That’s according to unofficial results from the state Board of Elections that won’t become finalized until a canvass is finished Nov. 18.
Still, his presumed 3.6-point margin was nearly three times as wide as Trump’s over Democrat Joe Biden two years ago in a race in which CBS 17 News previously observed the reddening phenomenon.
Of course, it can be tricky to compare a presidential election to a midterm because of the sheer differences in turnout: A total of 3.7 million ballots were cast in the state in the midterm, a 33 percent drop from the 5.5 million who voted in the 2020 general election.
But in a race viewed at least partly as a referendum on Trump — who not only endorsed Budd, but came to the state in September to stump for him — a comparison between the former president’s results in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties against that of the Senate candidate he endorsed is valid.
“It’s polarization all the way down,” said Mac McCorkle, a former Democratic strategist and current professor of the practice at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
Budd, giving his victory speech late Tuesday night in Winston-Salem, thanked Trump and his family for that endorsement, and credited state GOP chairman Michael Whatley, saying “your hard work and your commitment to our party has kept North Carolina red.”
Trump won 75 counties two years ago. Budd won 79 -- turning Nash, Edgecombe, Anson and Pasquotank counties red after they went for Biden two years ago.
And there were 23 counties that in 2020 went strongest for Trump — he received at least 70 percent of the votes in those places. Budd not only won each of them, but his share of votes was higher than Trumps’s in 11 of them.
That includes Yadkin County, where Trump had 80 percent of votes in 2020 — his highest rate of any county in the state. Budd did even better, at 80.2 percent.
Budd’s share was higher than Trump’s by at least a full percentage point in six counties — reaching 1.7 percentage points higher in two counties, Currituck and Rutherford.
The opposite was true at the other end of the spectrum: The places that went strongest for Biden — and where Trump did the worst — went even stronger for Beasley, the state’s former chief justice.
That includes the three primary Triangle counties: Orange, Durham and Wake.
Trump received just 18 percent of votes in Durham County two years ago, and Budd’s share of votes there was even lower — just 17.4 percent.