“The number of independents is shrinking,” said Washington-based Republican operative Doug Heye, originally from North Carolina. “Those people won’t be decided until the last four weeks or so. So every poll is going to be within the margin of error or close enough.”
Beasley, whose nomination follows decades of North Carolina Democrats selecting white candidates for the Senate, is counting on his non-political profile and the strength of the abortion issue to attract more minority voters and suburban women. Budd, meanwhile, has tried to present himself as a generic, no-drama Republican, hoping to ride with President Joe Biden’s dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy, avoiding the unforced errors that have plagued GOP Senate candidates in other states. He’ll get a boost Friday, when Trump heads to the state to rally with Budd and other North Carolina Republicans.
Democrats worry that Budd is largely getting a pass, despite voting against securing Biden’s 2020 re-election victory and refusing to say whether his campaign will accept the results of his 2022 term. And avoiding issues that have dogged Republican Senate candidates in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, he has so far avoided the national spotlight or the rise of his more conservative positions.
Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College, said Budd is “base-driven.”
“Registered Republicans are going to have a higher turnout rate than Democrats, the midterm environment is generally against the president’s party,” Bitzer told CNN. “And I think that he is counting on these bases to continue working until November 8.”
“Voters don’t think judges are politicians”
The centerpiece of Beasley’s campaign is his title: Judge.
His events and press releases are littered with references to his criminal record. He attacked Budd for voting against legislation that would have made it harder to overturn presidential elections, saying, “As a judge who protected the Constitution for more than two decades, I will stand against attacks on our democracy.” When South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham proposed a federal abortion ban earlier this month, Beasley decried, saying, “For more than two decades as a judge I protected these constitutional rights, and I will not hesitate to vote to protect these freedoms in the United States Senate.”
And his campaign released an ad earlier this month that highlighted a slew of Republican, independent and Democratic judges backing Beasley’s candidacy.
“As judges, our job is not that of politics. It is to stand up for what is right,” the judges say in the spot.
“Voters don’t think judges are politicians,” said Morgan Jackson, a longtime Democratic strategist in North Carolina. “And what Beasley has been able to do in his campaign and in his paid ads is to say, ‘I’ve spent my career trying to be impartial on an issue and make a decision based on the law.’ That’s something voters want in this polarizing climate.”
After graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1991, Beasley spent several years as a public defender in Cumberland County, North Carolina before moving up the judicial ladder as a county court judge.
Beasley’s first run for statewide judicial office was in 2008 when he successfully ran for the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Four years later, Democratic Governor Bev Perdue appointed her to the North Carolina Supreme Court and Beasley successfully won a full term on the bench in 2014. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her chief justice in 2019, becoming the first. Black woman to serve in office. And it was Beasley’s first Democratic nomination in 2020, when he unsuccessfully sought a full term as chief justice, losing by only 401 votes.
Jackson said this precedent, Roe v. With the focus on an issue like abortion that motivates Democrats across the country after Wade’s repeal, “it opens up a way for Beasley to swing voters and even some of the more moderate Republicans that Democrats don’t have a chance to reach.”
Budd’s allies, in a sign that they recognize his appeal, have responded by linking Beasley to special interests and using his judicial decisions to accuse him of being soft on crime.
Republicans are hopeful that this strategy — along with concerns about all Democratic control in Washington — could sink Beasley, even if he is running a strong campaign.
“Here’s his problem, and this is the problem for Democrats in general: Unaffiliated voters in the suburbs are divided between the economy and the social issues surrounding abortion,” said veteran North Carolina Republican strategist Paul Shumaker. “Democrats have a voter turnout problem with minorities and young people, who are most affected by inflation.”
Beasley’s campaign has argued that, as a history-making candidate, he is uniquely positioned to draw out black voters across the state. A key aspect of this operation has been Beasley’s wooing of rural black voters, many of whom are more likely to vote in presidential cycles.
In a statement to CNN, Beasley’s campaign said it was focused on “protecting the rights of all North Carolinians, everywhere in the state, of all political parties.” The campaign, along with a coordinated state Democratic campaign, has prioritized Black outreach through the church, historically Black colleges and universities, and the “Divine Nine” historically Black sororities and fraternities.
But Democrats have been here in North Carolina before: pushing for a statewide candidate to be well-positioned to win, only to have that candidate narrowly lose on Election Day. That includes 2020, when Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham was sunk by a sexting scandal. Democrats have not won an election to the United States Senate since 2008.
So far, the race has flown under the national radar, something that worries Democrats.
“What worries me is Budd right now, because he’s not Herschel Walker, he’s not Blake Masters, he’s not (Mehmet) Oz, and because he’s been so quiet and hidden, he’s just not getting that attention and that negative reputation,” he said. A North Carolina Democratic operative close to the Beasley campaign compared Budd to GOP Senate candidates in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
The operative added, “Budd’s calculation is that I can get away with this and keep quiet.”
“Sometimes boring and reliable is the way to win”
In Budden, North Carolina may have the closest thing to a generic Republican candidate.
The 50-year-old former gun district owner, who was first elected to the House in 2016, represents the district that stretches up and down Interstate 85 and includes neighborhoods in the Charlotte and Piedmont Triad regions. In Congress, he has aligned himself with Trump and the Trump Freedom Caucus, achieving a conservative voting record, but he is indistinguishable from other members of the Republican Conference.
Budd’s low-key approach to the Senate bid is seen as an asset in a large, politically divided state like North Carolina.
“Sometimes boring and reliable is the way to win,” said a person close to the campaign.
It’s also a must for Budd, who has raised far less money than Beasley — the Democrat raised about $16 million through June 30, compared to about $6.3 million for Budd. That limited his campaign’s presence on the television airwaves, a space Beasley dominated all summer.
Since then, Budd has received support from outside groups, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, booked $27.6 million in TV ads between Labor Day and Election Day.
Budd’s first general election TV ad — paid for by the NRSC — features the congressman at a grocery store, blaming “Biden’s reckless spending” for “record inflation crushing North Carolina’s working families.”
In addition to those well-funded pitches to undecided voters, Budd will need to pick up the numbers with the Republican base. He will get help in that effort when Trump arrives in Wilmington on Friday with him and a slate of other state Republican candidates.
But Trump’s visit is hardly risk-free for Budd. Democrats hope that the former president’s further insertion into the race will remind swing voters of the 2020 election and the anger of the political climate that follows. And Trump’s return to North Carolina will help Democrats highlight votes against Budd securing certain 2020 presidential election results.
Budd has also tried to moderate his tone and positions on other issues that put him at odds with voters in the middle, especially abortion. Earlier this year, Budd told television station WRAL that he opposes abortion and suggested that he may oppose exemptions even if the mother’s life is at risk. That has become an attack ad from Democratic groups, including one from Senate Majority PAC, which accuses Budd of “supporting legislation that would criminalize abortion for women and put North Carolina doctors in prison.”
Republicans watching the race told CNN that Budd’s support of a 15-week abortion ban, which is less popular than an outright ban, could help reduce abortion extremism or at least nullify Democratic attacks. . But it is a delicate act, they admit.
“How Republicans handle this one issue determines whether they have a good year,” Shumaker said.