Budd, Walker court him, but ‘too early’ for Trump to make pick in NC’s US Senate race

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Donald Trump, no longer president and no longer able to post to social media, remains the most powerful Republican in the country.

And two of the three major Republican candidates in North Carolina’s 2022 U.S. Senate race have already made trips to see Trump in South Florida.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker visited Wednesday, posting a photo of himself with Trump on Twitter and saying he “appreciated his encouragement in our U.S. Senate run.” U.S. Rep. Ted Budd visited with Trump before entering the race and said he thought Trump would support him — so long as daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a North Carolina native, doesn’t get in the race.

It’s “too early” for Trump to “weigh in on the race as he’s still meeting with candidates,” Trump senior advisor Jason Miller told McClatchy, adding that it’s not clear whether Lara Trump will make a bid.

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Trump-McConnell feud: Walker, Budd and former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory are the three major Republicans in the race to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who is not seeking a fourth term. They’re hoping to be part of a GOP majority in the Senate, where Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell has led the caucus since 2006, winning unanimous election eight times.

Trump, however, wants a new GOP Senate leader. He took another broadside at McConnell this week, calling him “gutless and clueless” for failing to go along with Trump’s wishes to not certify the 2020 presidential election. Trump also blamed McConnell for Republicans losing two Georgia runoffs that cost the party control of the chamber.

Budd and Walker sidestepped questions this week about whether, if elected, they would vote for McConnell to lead the GOP caucus. McCrory and his campaign declined comment.

“Ted’s only priority as relates to future leadership elections in the US Senate is that a Republican is seeking the role of Majority Leader, not Minority Leader,” said Jonathan Felts, a senior advisor for his campaign.

Walker, who faced similar questions during his 2014 campaign about then-House Speaker John Boehner, said such considerations should wait until after the 2022 election. Walker ended up voting for Boehner, calling it a “difficult vote.”

“Republicans have a real shot to take back both chambers of Congress next year. Knowing this, the media and the left will continue looking for every avenue to pit conservatives against one another,” Walker said in response to questions about the Trump-McConnell rift.

“We have to stay diligently focused on stopping socialism and winning for our values here in North Carolina and and across the country. Once victory is secured, or even more clearly if we fall short, we should take a serious look at whether or not the leadership in both chambers is going to advance conservative principles or accept the Washington status quo.”

Democratic candidates faced similar questions in 2018 about whether they would vote for Nancy Pelosi as House speaker if their party won the House, which it did.

‘Trump was an issue:’ Some of Trump’s criticism of McConnell stems from the Senate’s failure to pass $2,000 stimulus checks that Trump supported before the Georgia runoffs. McConnell was also critical of Trump after the events of Jan. 6 and after his second impeachment acquittal.

On his Charlotte-based radio show after the Georgia election in January, McCrory reached a different conclusion as to why the two Republicans lost those races. Of the $2,000, McCrory said the “squabble or war between the Senate and Trump was the worst timing in political history.”

“What were the issues that made it happen? I think Trump was an issue, both good and bad. Trump brought out his base, and Trump also brought out a base to vote against him. Trump made Trump and the Democrats made Trump the issue,” McCrory said on the morning of Jan. 6.

McCrory met with Trump about a position in his administration in late 2016, but did not get a job. Leaked documents show the Trump transition team had some questions about McCrory, including “comments critical of Trump.”

Former Department of Defense employee Jen Banwart, from Raleigh, is also running for the Republican nomination. She has pledged not to fundraise.

The primary is currently set for March 8, 2022.

NC lawmakers take on Liz Cheney

Trump’s influence over the party also extends to the U.S. House, where Trump critic Liz Cheney of Wyoming is expected to be ousted from her leadership role in the Republican caucus in part because of repeated critiques of Trump, the Capitol riot and his lies about the 2020 election.

Cheney kept her role in a secret vote earlier this year, but she is expected to lose her No. 3 post in the conference this week in another vote. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina will put forward the resolution to remove Cheney, according to Politco.

Foxx faces a primary challenge from Bo Hines in the 5th Congressional District, though the districts will be redrawn with new Census data later this year. Rep. Madison Cawthorn has backed Foxx in her reelection bid. Foxx has served in the House since 2005 when she won an election to replace Burr, who moved to the Senate.

Cawthorn and Rep. Dan Bishop have send fundraising appeals this week based around their support for removing Cheney from leadership. Cawthorn called her a “fake Republican.” Bishop asked for help stopping “Cheney and the Trump traitors.”

Endorsement watch

• Bishop endorsed Budd’s Senate campaign on Thursday. “There’s nothing slick or artificial about him – Ted Budd is a true conservative and solid as a rock. He’s humble, principled, loyal, and unafraid to stand up for working families,” Bishop said.

• Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, scored an endorsement from EMILY’s List on Thursday. The group supports Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights.

McClatchy White House reporter Francesca Chambers contributed to this report.

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