In competitive races across the U.S., Republican candidates are distancing themselves from their party’s most controversial policies and people — namely abortion and former President Donald Trump — as election day approaches.
Not Ted Budd.
North Carolina’s Republican Senate candidate is leaning toward supporting abortion restrictions and friendship with the former Republican president as Democrats fight for an elusive victory in the southern state.
Democratic optimism remains subdued given the state’s recent red slant, but Democratic officials believe Budd, a low-profile congressman who emerged as the GOP Senate candidate largely because of Trump’s support, gives them a real chance to change seats – and maintain the balance of power in Washington – this fall.
Disregarding his critics, Budd is expected to appear alongside Trump on Friday night at a rally in Wilmington. Budd’s campaign was eager to welcome Trump when the former president’s staff called, according to adviser Jonathan Felts.
“Trump won North Carolina twice, and a personal rally is helpful,” Felts said, suggesting Trump would help increase turnout, especially “with unaffiliated and/or undecided voters worried about the economy.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“The more Trump emerges, the more Trump is in the news, the better for Democrats,” said David Holian, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Indeed, Trump remains overwhelmingly popular with Republican voters, but he is less attractive to moderates and independents who often decide state elections. Trump’s favorable national ratings have been virtually the same or worse than President Joe Biden’s in recent weeks.
Still, some North Carolina Democrats are far from confident in a state that has suffered painful losses in recent years.
Democratic skepticism comes despite the apparent strength of its Senate nominee, former state Supreme Court chief Cheri Beasley, who has a decisive fundraising advantage, a track record of outperforming other Democrats in state elections and a subdued message. She would be the state’s first black senator if elected.
However, Beasley is also countering negative perceptions from his party.
Trump’s rise has fueled a growing feeling among some North Carolina voters, along with those in many other states, that the national Democratic Party has lost touch with the daily struggles of the working class and similar constituencies. The Democrat-controlled Congressional focus on climate change, for example, has not helped to inspire voters like Talmage Layton, a 74-year-old farmer from Durham.
Layton said he doesn’t know whether a North Carolina Democrat can make a difference on Capitol Hill by reducing gas prices or against the climate change policies that other Democrats have adopted.
“That’s nothing against Cheri Beasley,” Layton said after a recent meeting with Beasley. “I am a registered Democrat and would have no problem voting for a Democrat. But they have to think about the little guy here.”
Not too long ago, it looked like the Democratic Party was about to take over North Carolina politics.
In 2008, Obama led the state, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1976, and Democrat Kay Hagan defeated GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole. Political experts predicted that the Democratic Party would come to dominate as a result of increasing urbanization and out-of-state liberals moving into tech jobs in the Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte regions.
But Republicans took over the state legislature for the first time in more than 140 years after the 2010 election and held on to it thanks to support from voters in urban and rural areas and favorably attracted districts. A decade later, Trump became a two-time winner of North Carolina, although he won the 2020 election by just 1 percentage point.
While Democratic Governor Roy Cooper won re-election in 2020, Beasley was one of the party’s casualties. She lost an attempt to remain chief justice to a Republican rival by just 401 votes.
Her near-accident made her a rising candidate in the race to succeed in the retirement of Republican Senator Richard Burr.
In a sign of strength, Beasley consistently raised more money than Budd. And she appears to be generating momentum by harnessing abortion to energize women and independents, relying on the same playbook that Democrats have used elsewhere.
Budd, meanwhile, has been outspoken in his opposition to abortion. He co-sponsored a House version of a 15-week nationwide abortion ban introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, from which even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell distanced himself.
“My opponent has been in Congress for six years, and every opportunity he has had to vote in North Carolina, he has voted against us,” Beasley accused after meeting with farmers at a farm produce market in Durham ahead of the presentation. Graham’s bill.
Meanwhile, Republicans in competitive elections in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona have distanced themselves from their rigid anti-abortion positions in recent weeks. Others removed references to Trump or their favorite talking points from their websites.
In Virginia, a Republican House candidate removed a reference to Trump from his Twitter bio. In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc abruptly changed his stance last week when asked about Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. After spending much of the past year echoing Trump’s lies, Bolduc told Fox News he did more research and concluded: “The election was not stolen.”
Meanwhile, Budd’s campaign this week declined to say whether he would accept the 2022 election results, having already voted to block certification of the 2020 election.
Those positions will almost certainly appeal to Trump’s base, but policymakers say Budd needs considerable support from moderate and independent voters to succeed. Unaffiliated voters this year overtook Democrats to become the largest bloc of registered voters in the state.
“Regardless of your religious background, you are dealing with skyrocketing energy prices. You are dealing with high grocery costs. You are dealing with high crime. You’re dealing with economic uncertainty,” Budd said after speaking with pastors recently in Greenville. “And so I want to make life better for all of North Carolina and people in our country with the things that I support.”
As Budd has struggled to keep up with Beasley’s fundraiser, outside groups have come to his aid.
The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund and the Senate Republican National Committee spent a combined $17.3 million on propaganda against Beasley, according to Federal Election Commission documents. The Senate Majority Fund, which supports Democratic candidates, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spent about $4 million in North Carolina, while investing much more in high-profile races in states like Pennsylvania and Arizona.
“We are committed to ensuring that voters continue to see and hear the truth about Ted Budd,” said Senate Majority Fund spokeswoman Veronica Woo.
A pro-abortion arm of EMILY’s List announced this month it spent $2.7 million to criticize Budd over abortion as well.
During a recent stop at the Perkins Orchard in Durham, Beasley chatted with farmers who had gathered around picnic tables and near fresh pumpkins for sale. Some said later that they were happy to see her interest in her situation.
Jason Lindsay, 34, a first-generation black farmer from Rocky Mount, said he is frustrated with the divisive political environment but is encouraged by Beasley.
“Her temper here today gave me the first sign of hope I’ve had in a long time,” he said.
People contributed from New York.