RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham refused on Friday to address whether other sexual affairs could surface days after The Associated Press reported his intimate encounter this summer with a public relations consultant.
Cunningham is in a closely contested, expensive race with Republican Sen. Thom Tillis that could determine control of the Senate. During a virtual news conference, he wouldn't respond directly to multiple questions from reporters about the existence of other affairs or extramarital allegations.
The U.S. Army Reserve officer and Raleigh attorney on Oct. 2 acknowledged the existence of sexually suggestive text messages between him and a woman, both of whom are married, and apologized for hurting his family and supporters. Additional texts obtained by The Associated Press and interviews show the relationship extended to an intimate encounter as recent as July.
“I’ve taken responsibility for the hurt that I’ve caused in my personal life. I’ve apologized for it,” Cunningham said on the virtual news conference, his first meeting with reporters since the texts were reported. “I’ve said what I’m going to say about it."
Cunningham tried to return the campaign's arc back to issues and Tillis, who with GOP allies have been relentless this week in trying to make his personal decisions the focus approaching Election Day. Both Tillis and the Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, started running ads this week emphasizing TV reports about the revelations.
“Cal Cunningham — what else is he hiding?" the leadership fund's ad says.
Like another virtual speech he gave on Wednesday, Cunningham again on Friday pushed back at Tillis, accusing the Republican of using the incident to draw voters away from his record as a senator. Friday's online event began with Cunningham speaking with representatives of a union and teacher lobbying group and a small business operator about additional COVID-19 relief that he blames Tillis for failing to deliver.
“I’m hearing from North Carolinians that are telling me in no uncertain terms that they want their Senate candidate talking about the issues like those that we’re talking about right here today. People are tired of hearing about personal issues,” he said.
Tillis, still recovering at his North Carolina home after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, has said it's Cunningham who has made integrity and truthfulness campaign issues through his own words and narrative of rooting out corruption while a military lawyer.
Cunningham’s “refusal to answer questions makes him unfit for office,” campaign manager Luke Blanchat said in a news release. The Cal Cunningham of just a week ago was making his personal life the cornerstone of his campaign, but now that the real Cal Cunningham has been exposed, he no longer believes questions about his personal life are relevant."
The woman texting with Cunningham, Arlene Guzman Todd, acknowledged the extramarital relationship this week. In a statement, she said the relationship "spanned several months and consisted primarily of a series of text exchanges and an in-person encounter.”
The U.S. Army Reserve announced Wednesday it was investigating matters involving Cunningham, a lieutenant colonel. A reserve spokesperson didn't explain why. Adultery is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and polls show the contest tight between Cunningham and Tillis. It's the most expensive Senate race in the nation, with more than $122 million in spending by outside groups alone during the general election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.