North Carolina Democrats campaigned for history while Republicans sought to extend a winning streak for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, as Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd competed to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr.
Beasley, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, would be North Carolina’s first Black senator if elected. Budd, a three-term congressman, has sought to capitalize on Donald Trump’s endorsement, soaring inflation and tens of millions of dollars spent by super PACs attacking Beasley’s judicial record on crime and her support for President Joe Biden’s policies.
The race was one of several nationwide expected to determine which party would control what is now a 50-50 Senate.
While statewide elections in North Carolina are usually closely divided, Democrats have had a poor run for the Senate in the 21st century. Republicans have won seven of the eight Senate elections, with only Democrat Kay Hagan coming out on top in 2008.
Beasley outraised Budd by a roughly 3-to-1 margin leading up to the campaign’s final weeks, but national Democrats weren’t as generous as Republican counterparts were toward Budd in helping her cause.
The Senate Leadership Fund, which is linked to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., alone spent at least $38 million against Beasley, and with other conservative groups effectively canceled out her fundraising advantage. The Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC committed to spending well less than half of that amount.
Beasley did get a ringing endorsement from former President Barack Obama in the campaign’s final days, with him appearing in an ad for her. Biden never came to the state to campaign publicly for her, but Beasley had been noncommittal about attending such an event with a president who lost North Carolina’s electoral votes in 2020 and is harboring low approval numbers.
Budd was relentless in attempting to link Beasley to Biden, saying last month that “she would be an absolute rubber stamp for everything that’s led to this country being on the wrong track.” Meanwhile, Budd continued to embrace Trump’s backing, which began with a June 2021 endorsement in the GOP primary that over time helped him win the nomination in a rout over former Gov. Pat McCrory. The former president held rallies on Budd’s behalf in April and September, designed to intensify the candidate’s conservative base.
During their only televised debate, Budd said Biden was the legitimately elected president but defended voting in the House in early 2021 to attempt to delay the 2020 presidential election certification. Beasley said Budd “aligned himself with somebody who is truly extremist” by embracing Trump.
Beasley sought to generate support from unaffiliated and Republican women who were fearful of Budd’s anti-abortion stance in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June striking down Roe v. Wade. Democrats and their allies piled on Budd for co-sponsoring a measure to ban abortion nationally after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions. But his support for much more restrictive legislation made him susceptible to accusations that he would seek to eliminate abortion completely.
Budd, 51, grew up in Davie County and previously worked in the family’s janitorial and landscaping business. He and his father also created a company to invest in agricultural businesses. Today he owns a gun store and range.
Budd had never run for public office in 2016 when he won a 17-candidate Republican primary for the 13th Congressional District seat and later the general election.
Beasley, 56 and a Tennessee native, served as a public defender and local judge before getting elected to the 15-member intermediate-level Court of Appeals in 2008. Beasley was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012 and became the first Black female chief justice in the state with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2019 appointment.
While she ended up losing a bid for a full eight-year term as chief justice in 2020 by just 401 votes from 5.4 million votes cast, her competitiveness in a tough year for Democrats in the state made her a potential Senate candidate.
Libertarian Shannon Bray and Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh also were on Tuesday’s Senate ballot.
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