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Field notes from the U.S. Senate election — Vol. 9

Election Day in the North Carolina U.S. Senate primaries is just 27 days away.

One month out

New polling and campaign finance reports are out and major endorsements are in, but with a month to go before Election Day, the trajectory of both U.S. Senate primaries remains essentially unchanged.

After clearing the field of major challengers last December, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley is focusing on the general election while cruising to a primary win.

In a race destined to be among the most expensive in the nation, Beasley continues to raise funds at a faster clip than all other candidates, taking in $3.5 million in the first quarter and showing $5.1 million cash on hand. This week, she launched her first ad, a low key “drive-and-talk” about her background as a judge and public defender.

Despite a longer, more grueling schedule, the GOP primary is roughly where it’s been since early March, when the election was originally scheduled.

Although about a third of likely primary voters are still undecided, a series of recent polls show congressman Ted Budd running well ahead of former governor Pat McCrory, his closest rival.

The latest, a WRAL survey, showed Budd leading with 33% and McCrory at 23%. An earlier Civitas poll puts the split at 32% to 22% and an Emerson College poll for The Hill was at 38% to 22%. Almost all of the polling was conducted in early April, before Budd spoke at a rally in Johnston County held by former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Budd at the GOP state convention last June.

The survey results show it growing more likely that the winner in the May primary will hit the 30% threshold required to avoid a runoff.
Former congressman Mark Walker has so far failed to reach double digits and author and combat veteran Marjorie Eastman is still polling less than 3%.

With the numbers holding steady, Budd is still declining debate invitations. Tonight will be the fourth with Eastman, Walker and McCrory debating the issues and and noting Budd’s absence at Spectrum News studios starting at 7 p.m.

Quarterly fundraising

McCrory did get a boost this week after first quarter fundraising reports showed that he out-raised Budd, taking in $1,121,898 to Budd’s $1,033,127 and has $2.2 million in cash on hand.

He’s been on the air and online with ads, one of which features a wheelbarrow of manure signifying all the “crap” being flung in the race so far.

Budd goes into the last month of the primary with $1.9 million in cash on hand and continues to benefit from PAC support from Club for Growth, which has spent heavily in negative ads aimed at McCrory.

The group branched out this week with a new ad buy aimed at Mark Walker, who is more likely to pull votes from Budd.

Walker fell to fourth in fundraising in the quarter taking in just over $100,000. He has $509,000 cash on hand.

Eastman was third in fundraising with $216,947, but part of that is $160,000 she loaned her campaign. Eastman, who is backed by a political action committee financed by GOP mega-donor Fred Eshelman, has $441,323 cash on hand.

Budd is also touting two key endorsements. Lt. Governor Mark Robinson used his Trump rally speech to announce his support for Budd over Walker, a longtime supporter who had recently campaigned alongside Robinson at evangelical events.

Robinson has since cut an ad for Club for Growth slamming McCrory.

Budd also picked up the endorsement of North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, announcing it Monday with the headline “Governor Pat McCrory’s Old Boss* Endorses Ted Budd for US Senate!”

“North Carolinians will decide control of the U.S. Senate this November. That’s why it’s imperative Republicans nominate an electable conservative candidate, and that candidate is Ted Budd,” Berger said in a statement.

Campaign Finance Reports

Key dates & deadlines

  • Absentee ballot must be returned by 5 p.m. Election Day (May 17). Click here for information on voting by mail.
  • Voter registration deadline for the primary is 5 p.m. Friday April 22. Click here to check your registration.
  • North Carolina’s 17 day early voting period runs from April 17 to May 14. Eligible voters can also register in person and vote at the sites. Click here for more information on voting early in-person and here to look up lookup early voting sites in any county.

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