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Budd is ahead, but polls show a tight race and political strategists in both parties predict victory and defeat will come down to a few percentage points.
“North Carolina is a true purple state. Thirty percent of our voters are registered Republicans, 34 [percent] are registered as Democrats, 35 percent are registered as unaffiliated voters,” said state Republican Chairman Michael Whatley. “Fifty-two to 48 is a landslide in North Carolina.”
Beasley faces a difficult environment with high inflation, President Biden’s approval rating stuck at around 40 percent and more than 60 percent of voters nationwide saying the country is moving in the wrong direction.
But Democrats hope Beasley can come through against a House GOP opponent who they see as vulnerable to attacks.
“Ted Budd has largely had a free pass over the last several months and it’s because this race has been a sleeper race,” said Morgan Jackson, a Raleigh-based Democratic consultant. “The truth of the matter is his positions are not in line with the majority of North Carolina voters. What Beasley and other groups have to do is disqualify Ted Budd. He’s the most conservative Republican nominee in more than 26 years for the U.S. Senate.”
Budd backs a 15-week abortion ban and praised the Trump supporters who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 as “patriots.”
Democrats have sought to use both issues across the country, but polls show most voters are more concerned about the economy and inflation.
“Ultimately this is going to come down to turning out the vote and whether or not Democrats are able to stem the tide of what’s happening nationally — the national environment,” Jackson said.
Democrats have certainly not given up in North Carolina, a state that has disappointed them in the past.
A super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has started to spend millions of dollars in North Carolina, investing a total of $15 million, including $8 million in the final four weeks of the race.
Beasley has invited Democratic lawmakers to campaign with her, including Sens. Jon Ossoff (Ga.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).
She spent Friday morning with a group of Black pastors at the Little Rock African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Charlotte urging them to get their parishioners to the polls.
“There are lots of churches … that have church buses that are sitting in their parking lots. We’re going to ask you all to get them cranked up. I know gas is high, but put a little gas in there and make sure that we’re getting folks to the polls,” she said.
Senate Republicans and a super PAC affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are spending heavily in the North Carolina Senate race, showing they’re nervous about the purple state even though the political winds are at their backs.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell, has reserved $27.6 million in airtime in North Carolina from Sept. 6 through Election Day. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent more than $5 million on ads opposing Beasley.
“North Carolinians face a simple choice as inflation spirals out of control: Ted Budd will support policies to alleviate inflation, but Cheri Beasley wants to spend more and make it worse,” said Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Jack Pandol.
NRSC Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.) acknowledged that turnout will be the key to the race.
“If we don’t win in North Carolina, we’re not going to get a majority,” he warned supporters at the Republican National Committee Black Community Center in Greensboro. “The way we win is we vote. If we don’t get all of our votes out there, we will not win.”
The challenge for Beasley, a former state Supreme Court chief justice who would be the first Black woman elected to the Senate from North Carolina, is finding a way to motivate young, Black and female voters to come to the polls.
That task is more difficult without Donald Trump on the ballot and polls showing that many voters are more concerned about the economy and inflation than abortion rights.
Budd is hitting President Biden and Beasley on the economy, crime and the southern border.
He’s airing a hard-hitting ad on television criticizing Beasley’s record as a justice and accusing her of ruling to narrow a state law requiring GPS tracking of child predators.
Beasley says Budd is distorting her record and three retired North Carolina judges have called the attack “ugly” and “dishonest.”
She is criticizing Budd’s support for the 15-week abortion ban and portraying him as out of touch with North Carolinians on key issues, like prescription drug reform.
And she has pressed Budd on whether he would support the results of the 2022 election after backing Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in 2020 without much evidence.
“Even after all that violence he refused to certify the 2020 election,” she said of Jan. 6. “Even when he’s asked about this election he will not commit to accepting the results.”
When asked whether he will accept next month’s results, Budd has retorted “why wouldn’t I?” and dismissed the criticism as “a false narrative from the left.”
Budd spent Thursday afternoon revving up supporters at a get-out-the-vote event at a strip mall in Greensboro. On Friday he trekked around the rural northwestern part of the state, a Republican stronghold, holding meet-and-greet sessions in the small towns of Mt. Airy and Wilkesboro.
The two issues that Democrats thought would help them win in North Carolina and other Senate battlegrounds — abortion and GOP candidates’ alignment with former President Trump — are getting drowned out by concerns over the economy and GOP attack ads.
Beasley acknowledged that inflation “is a huge economic issue for folks in this state” but argued that Budd voted against legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
A poll conducted Oct. 16 to Oct. 19 by the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group shows Budd leading Beasley by 4 points, a slightly wider margin than the 3-point Budd lead the poll measured in early September.
And an East Carolina University (ECU) poll conducted from Oct. 10 to Oct. 13 showed Budd ahead by 6 points after an ECU poll from early September showed him leading by only 3 points.
Brad Crone, a former Democrat who is now an unaffiliated political strategist based in Raleigh, said inflation is burying other issues, pushing independent voters to Republican candidates.
“It’s shifting Republican,” he said of the Senate race. “In the private data and the public data that I’m seeing the last three weeks there’s incremental shift with unaffiliated voters and a lot of it’s being driven by gas prices, inflation and crime. That’s not going to help Cheri at all.”
He said the abortion issue is driving the Democratic base but not generating new voters for Beasley. “It is very much muted in relationship to inflation, economic concerns,” he said of abortion rights.
In a troubling development for Beasley, the ECU poll showed that Biden’s approval rating in the state has dropped to 38 percent — down 6 points from the 44 percent approval rating the poll measure in early September.
Asked if Biden should run for reelection, Beasley declined to say whether he should or shouldn’t.
“I can’t imagine he’s going to ask me about that,” she said
Instead, she is urging Biden to focus on fighting inflation.
“I really hope that right now what he’s focused on is addressing rising costs for folks here in North Carolina. This is a critical issue for folks who live here,” she said.