U.S. Senate race field notes — Vol. 10

The race between Cheri Beasley (left) and Ted Budd (right) for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat is in full swing.

Door for more candidates is still ajar

The networks weren’t very deep into their election night coverage when the field of candidates in this year’s U.S. Senate race dropped from 26-3.

For the record, left standing and on the ballot in the fall are are Republican Rep. Ted Budd, Democrat and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Libertarian Shannon Bray. So far.

There’s still a chance that the list could grow, albeit a remote chance.

North Carolina is one of the tougher states for an independent to get on the ballot. The number of valid signatures required for an individual to gather to run statewide is 1.5% of the total number of North Carolinians who voted in the most recent governor’s race. This year, that threshold is 83,188.

But it’s a little easier if a candidate is added to the ballot by a political party, because the threshold for registering a political party with the state is far lower, just .25%.

In the 2022 cycle, the requirement is 13,865 valid signatures of registered voters who voted in the last governor’s race. The parties also have to have to show they have valid signatures from at least 200 voters in each county.

The deadline to submit the petitions and signatures to local elections offices was noon on Primary Day, May 17. County elections boards are in the process of verifying signatures and voter information ahead of a June 1 deadline to report them to the State Board of Elections.

According to the latest totals, the Constitution Party has submitted 3,590 of which 2,887 have been deemed valid so far.

The North Carolina Green Party is even closer and has submitted 14,147 of which 10,540 are listed as valid so far.

Board of Elections spokesman Patrick Gannon said the totals reflect the signatures that counties have reviewed and verified and don’t reflect those still in process. Should either party reach the threshold, it could still qualify for this year’s ballot, he said. You can check for updates on the petitions here.

Should it meet the threshold, the North Carolina Green Party has already selected Matthew Hoh of Wake Forest as its candidate. Hoh is a Marine Corps veteran and civil service official who served in Afghanistan. In 2009, he resigned his position and became an outspoken opponent of administration plans to escalate U.S. operations.

Meet the new poll

Until this week, the only head-to-head poll of Budd and Beasley was an early May Emerson poll showing Budd up 7% with 10% undecided.
Now, there a fresh, post-primary poll on the books from East Carolina University Center for Survey Research showing a similar lead for Budd.

The May 19-20 poll of 635 registered voters shows Budd ahead of Beasley 47% to 39% with 14% still undecided.

The survey also shows President Joe Biden’s approval rating in North Carolina at one of its worst levels with 35%respondents saying they approve of the president’s job performance, 55% saying they disapprove and 10% undecided. Biden’s ratings are one of the major factors playing into the narrative that Beasley is facing a difficult election cycle.[Links to top lines and crosstabs here]

The latest Quinnipiac poll and others recent approval rating polls show a split between Biden’s numbers and the generic numbers in congressional races, with Republicans running slightly ahead of Democrats nationwide.

That’s similar to the split here in the new ECU poll, which has the GOP in the lead in the generic congressional results 47% to 44% with 7% undecided.

Those numbers become less meaningful after the primary since the candidates are set in the 14 congressional races. Whether any of them should be described as generic is more a matter of personal choice at this point.

Democrats spend some $

Eyebrows were arched following reports in late April that North Carolina’s Senate race wasn’t part of an initial $30 million ad buy for the general election by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But a fresh $1.3 million burst of spending by a national Democratic super PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer may calm some nerves.

The ad, paid for by the Democratic Senate Majority PAC, fires back at an ad put out last week by the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee attacking Beasley.

They’re the early volleys in a four-way exchange involving both parties’ senatorial committees and leadership PACs controlled by Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The DSCC has yet to announce a major spend, but was out with an online ad after the primary, which might sound familiar if you followed the GOP primary and heard former Governor Pat McCrory’s refrain that Budd is just another Washington insider.

The DSCC ad is titled “Washington Insider.”

Hot takes aplenty

Following North Carolina’s turn in the primary spotlight, there’s been no shortage of punditry around the Budd-Beasley match-up.
Most of the stories on the race fall into two camps: why Beasley faces a tough set of circumstances; and how she might win despite that. All of them come at a point when it is far to early to assume anything.

Here’s a sample pack:

Politico — Democrats confront North Carolina blues

Bloomberg — North Carolina Senate Race May Be Decided by Independent Voters

The Griot — US Senate candidates Beasley and Booker make history with primary election wins

WRAL — Budd, Beasley take aim at one another as focus shifts to November election (video)

North State Journal — Nominees Budd, Beasley turn focus to November

Ned Barnett — Beasley vs. Budd could decide U.S. Senate and define North Carolina

The Assembly — Cheri Beasley’s Record is On Trial

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.


Field notes from the U.S. Senate election — Vol. 8

Poll shows Budd up big in GOP primary

The latest set of poll numbers wiped away any question about the strength of two-term congressman Ted Budd’s lead in the GOP Senate primary.

A poll by Emerson College of likely GOP primary voters for The Hill, which was released late Tuesday, showed Budd favored by 38% of respondents, well above the 30 percent threshold that would trigger a runoff.

Former governor Pat McCrory, who led the race in a January poll, saw his support drop to 22%. Former congressman Mark Walker came in at 9% and author Marjorie Eastman at 1%. About 23% remain undecided in the race, a big drop from earlier this year when nearly half of GOP voters were uncommitted.

According to Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College Polling, Budd and McCrory were evenly split among the state’s suburban voters, but rural voters preferred Budd by about 4 to 1.

McCrory got another round of bad news in an accompanying poll of general election voters on a potential race against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, the likely Democratic winner.

McCrory was the only one of the four top tier GOP candidates who wasn’t either tied or ahead, running behind Beasley 43-41. The poll showed Budd ahead of Beasley 50-43; Walker up 47-42 and Eastman and Beasley tied at 44%.

A somewhat closer race is predicted in a new Cygnal poll of likely general election voters released this week. That poll shows Budd with a much slimmer lead running less than two points ahead of Beasley at 44.6% to Beasley’s 43.1%. McCrory and Beasley are tied in the poll.

Both the Cygnal and Emerson College polls underline difficulties for Democratic candidates in this election cycle. The Emerson College Poll shows that President Joe Biden’s approval rating remains low in the state with 44% saying they approve of the job he’s doing to 52% saying they disapprove.

The Cygnal poll shows that about 49% of voters say things in North Carolina are on the wrong track and a 50-44 tilt toward GOP candidates in a generic ballot.

Trump heads to The Farm

The Emerson College Poll also showed that former President Donald Trump remains a powerful influence on GOP primary voters with 59% of all respondents saying his endorsement would influence their decision. About half of the undecideds in the poll said Trump’s endorsement would be an influence.

Trump returns to North Carolina Saturday to do just that at a rally with Ted Budd in Selma [Motto: The Crossroads of Tradition and Innovation].

The event will be held at The Farm at I-95, the same Johnston County venue where Trump held a rally during his 2016 campaign for president. Doors open at 2 p.m. Speakers start at 4 p.m. Trump is scheduled to start around 7 p.m.

The full slate of speakers has yet to be announced, but in addition to whatever fireworks the former president brings, the rally will also include Rep. Madison Cawthorn for his first public appearance with Trump since a recent falling out with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over Cawthorn’s sordid tales of orgies and cocaine use in our nation’s capital.

This week, Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed Cawthorn’s opponent in the primary, State Sen. Chuck Edwards.

Key dates & links for voters

Absentee ballots are available and can be requested at the state’s online ballot request portal. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is May 10. You can also track your ballot.

The statewide civilian voter registration deadline is April 22.

The One Stop and Same-Day Voter Registration period runs from April 28 to May 14. Eligible, unregistered voters can register and vote at the one stop locations in their county during the in-person early voting period. Election Day is May 17

Information links

2020 Statewide Primary Overview
Voter Registration Information
Vote By Mail Information
Vote By Mail FAQ
Vote By Mail Instructions
Help for Voters with Disabilities
In-Person Early Voting
Election Day Voting
Polling Place Look Up
Sample Ballots


Reuters — North Carolina U.S. Senate primary a test of Trump’s power over Republican voters
Emerson College — Ted Budd Holds 16-point Lead in Republican Primary for U.S. Senate; Leads Potential Matchup Against Democrat Cheri Beasley
The Hill — Budd leads GOP rivals in NC Senate primary: poll
News & ObserverTrump-endorsed Budd leads McCrory by double digits in NC GOP Senate race, poll says
Wilkes Journal-PatriotBudd, Robinson address Wilkes Republicans
North State JournalNC Values Coalition poll shows Budd leading Senate primary
WFAE — Fact Check: Budd’s tweet about a McCrory-appointed judge was misleading
WGHP — NC Dems launch ad to attack Senate candidates

Field notes from the U.S. Senate election — Vol. 7

Final sprint in the GOP primary money race

This is the last week before the books close on first quarter fundraising and candidates are revving up last-minute appeals.

In a race that has scant public polling, the fundraising reports, due out by April 15, are among the few metrics of support in the race.

They’ll be well pondered no doubt, but with so much money flowing into the race from PACs and various dark money groups, the true value of the reports as tea leaves is dubious.

In the last quarter, Congressman Ted Budd pulled ahead of former Gov. Pat McCrory in the money chase. If he sustains that pace, it could help him make the sale to the substantial bloc of still undecided GOP and unaffiliated voters. Or not.

The most important number for now is 30 percent plus one, whatever that turns out to be once the vote is certified. As the race stands today, if either Ted Budd or Pat McCrory or both clear that threshold, the top vote-getter wins the primary outright.

Any result shy of that threshold, which would likely require both Mark Walker and Marjorie Eastman picking up double digit support, means a runoff in July.

The fundraising totals tend to trickle out ahead of the formal reports, especially if they reinforce a campaign’s narrative, so we should know soon.

Trump travels to NC

Former President Donald Trump is expected to make it a day to remember for Ted Budd, when he returns to North Carolina in early April to renew his vow of support.

Trump, whose clout is being measured in part by how well his slate of endorsements are faring in the primary is headlining a April 9 event at The Farm on 95, Johnston County’s “premiere wedding venue.”

Last week, the former president dropped his endorsement of congressman Mo Brooks, who was running third in Alabama’s Senate primary.

As Trump makes the rounds of primary states, his endorsement of Budd and whether the two-term congressman can win is getting additional scrutiny in national media. Here are a few examples:

The HillTrump looks to bolster Ted Budd with North Carolina rally
Politico — Why Trump Is Losing His Grip on the GOP
NYTHow the 2022 Primaries Are Testing Trump’s Role as the G.O.P. ‘Kingpin’

This screenshot from a Ted Budd for Senate ad shows him (at right) packing a gun on the U.S.-Mexico border

Endless ads

Advertising buys are rolling in for the final six weeks of campaigning, including an initial round of $1 million from another national PAC opposed to McCrory.

The Alexandria, Va.-based Conservative Outsider PAC is backed by Richard Uilein, who runs the privately held Uline shipping products company.

The latest statement of organization for the PAC lists attorney Lane Ruhland of Wisconsin as treasurer.

Ruhland came under fire during the 2020 presidential race for representing the Trump campaign while also helping Kayne West file paperwork and obtain petitions for a presidential run.

Budd also has his first ad up. In it, he’s making his pitch while packing a handgun and walking along the U.S. Mexico border with a guy in a cowboy hat. A campaign spokesman told the Associated Press the campaign plans to spend $2.5 million on advertising in the primary.


WNCN — Fact check: Is Mark Walker’s jab at Ted Budd’s ‘liberal agenda crusher’ out of bounds?
WRAL — NC GOP’s US Senate primary turns personal as Budd, Walker tangle for Trump base
Politifact — McCrory on Budd excusing Putin ‘mostly false’
Ballotopedia — Heart of the Primaries 2022, Republicans
WCNC Flashpoint — ‘Too close to call’ | GOP official sizes up NC’s Senate race
AP — Budd runs 1st ad in GOP Senate primary; another PAC pans McCrory
Capital Tonight — One-on-one with Mark Walker
Washington TimesWalker balances pro-, anti-Trump factions in bid for ‘strong’ conservative mantle in NC Senate race
WNCN — 1-on-1 with US Senate hopeful Marjorie Eastman
WRAL — Marjorie K. Eastman makes pitch for political outsider candidate
N&ODonald Trump announces rally in the Triangle area in early April. What we know.

Field notes from the U.S. Senate race – Vol. 6: Putin comments shake up GOP primary

Pat McCrory

Ted Budd

Plenty of U.S. Senate campaigns rise and fall over national issues, but less often do they get swept up in international events.

This week in North Carolina proved to be one of those moments with Pat McCrory’s campaign taking to the airwaves to bash Ted Budd’s recent comments about Vladimir Putin, the first Senate ad of its kind nationally this election cycle.

“While Ukrainians bled and died, congressman Budd excused their killer,” McCrory says at the beginning of the 30-second ad, which features a clip of Budd calling Putin a “very intelligent actor” during a February 26 interview on Fox News.

“These are serious times and we need serious senators,” McCrory says at the end of the ad. “I don’t compliment our enemies, I stand for truth and freedom.”

Responding to the ad, a Budd spokesman this week said the congressman takes Putin very seriously and was accurately describing the Russian leader as both intelligent and evil.

Budd comments followed President Donald Trump’s description of Putin as “savvy” and his moves in Ukraine smart geopolitics during a February 23 fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago that Budd attended.

Cheri Beasley

Trump’s comments drew criticism at the time from both GOP candidate Marjorie Eastman, a former army intelligence officer, and Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley.

The new ad highlights a rift in the GOP over Russia’s moves in Ukraine. Last week in a Wall Street Journal column, longtime George W. Bush aide Karl Rove denounced North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn who called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” and said the west was being swayed by his “woke ideologies” at a recent town hall in Asheville.

This week, both North Carolina GOP senators responded to underline their support for the Ukraine cause. Without calling out Cawthorn by name Sen. Thom Tillis noted in a tweet that “the vast majority of Americans and nearly every single member of Congress are united in support of Ukraine’s fight for freedom.”

McCrory’s ad isn’t the only one heating up the airwaves. Club for Growth, which is backing Budd in the primary and has already spent more than $4 million attacking McCrory, has upped its budget for the Senate race from $10 million to $14 million. The PAC’s latest ad attacks McCrory for saying something nice about Dr. Anthony Fauci and suggesting people wear a mask.

The blowback on his Putin comments came as Budd’s campaign was also reacting to questions about poll numbers and whether he can sustain the momentum that made him the top fundraiser in the last quarter.

Mark Walker

Marjorie Eastman

There hasn’t been a full independent poll in the Senate race since a Civitas survey in early January, but another internal poll released this week by the Mark Walker campaign, claims Budd’s numbers are dropping as Walker and Marjorie Eastman gain ground among the large swath of GOP voters who are still undecided.

Although internal polls have to be read with caution, even Trump has recently wondered in public how it’s going here in North Carolina. According to Politico, in remarks at a major RNC fundraiser in New Orleans, Trump asked NCGOP Chair Michael Whatley: “How are we doing? How’s Ted Budd doing? OK?” The audio doesn’t include Whatley’s response, but Trump added: “All right, we gotta get Walker out of that race. Get him out of the race, Michael, right?”

The story did not go over well with the Budd campaign.

Meanwhile Walker, new campaign bus and all, has remained on the road, including joint events with with Lt. Governor Mark Robinson aimed at building his support among evangelicals.

Robinson, a likely candidate for governor in 2024, hasn’t made an official endorsement in the Senate race, but told an audience in Winston-Salem at an event with Walker last week “You need to vote somebody that you see. Somebody who’s not somewhere hiding in the basement, hiding from everybody.”


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