RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Sen. Thom Tillis (R) went after Democrat Cal Cunningham regarding the news of an extramarital affair in an ad Thursday, as Republican-aligned groups spend millions of dollars in North Carolina trying to draw voters’ attention to the matter in the campaign’s final weeks.
The ad came the day after CBS 17 talked to Cunningham for the first time since learning of his relationship with Arlene Guzman Todd and the release of text messages between the two. She told the Associated Press she was intimate with Cunningham in July. Cunningham is married with two children.
“Well, I’ve made it clear that I hurt my family, and I’ve disappointed my supporters and I’m taking responsibility for that. I’m very clear that this campaign isn’t about my personal life. It’s about the people of North Carolina. It’s about the issues that are important to North Carolinians, and that’s what I’m staying focused on,” Cunningham said.
The Tillis campaign’s new ad is titled “Hypocrisy” and highlights comments Cunningham made March 3 when he won the Democratic primary for North Carolina’s highly contested U.S. Senate race.
“Here in North Carolina, the truth still matters,” he said at the time. The ad then calls attention to recent news reports on the affair and the investigation the U.S. Army Reserves announced Wednesday.
In a memo to reporters Thursday, Tillis campaign media consultant Brad Todd wrote, “It’s possible that some voters have become desensitized to sexual immorality from a politician, but what they undeniably still desire above all things is for their elected leaders to be genuine. As more and more developments in Cunningham’s scandal continue to be plastered on the front pages of North Carolina newspapers each day, it’s clear that Cunningham has been anything but genuine and that the golden boy image that he has spent millions of dollars trying to portray over the course of this campaign is a total and complete fabrication.”
Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that’s working to help Republicans maintain their majority in the Senate, told CBS 17 it’s spending more than $4 million to run TV and radio ads highlighting the scandal.
Catawba College political analyst Michael Bitzer said, “The issue with Cal Cunningham and his mistress is not going away.”
He noted Cunningham has been leading in polls by about five to six points on average. He expects that lead to shrink but questioned if the issue ultimately will cost him the race.
“In this post-Trump world that we all live in, certainly indiscretions by candidates are factored into this and are typically not held against them,” he said. “I think for voters, though, that are looking at Cal Cunningham and saying this shouldn’t be, this is unacceptable, they probably weren’t going to be voting for Cal Cunningham to begin with.”
He added, “But, we may be looking at a generational dynamic. Younger voters saying, you know what, this is not a big deal. This is not a big issue. Older voters, kind of saying, maybe it is a big deal.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin addressed the issue during a press conference Thursday.
“None of us is perfect. I pray for his family. I pray for his loved ones. But, I pray that North Carolina will choose a United States senator that is not putting politics above public health,” Goodwin said.
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