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North Carolina Democrats hope ex-judge can stop Senate losing streak in pro-GOP environment

“The number of independents is getting smaller and smaller,” said Doug Heye, a Washington-based Republican operative originally from North Carolina. “Those people aren’t going to decide until the last four weeks or so. So every poll will have it within the margin of error or close enough.”

Beasley, whose nomination follows decades of North Carolina Democrats electing white Senate candidates, is counting on her nonpolitical profile and the power of the abortion issue to attract more minority voters and suburban women. Budd, on the other hand, has sought to run as a non-drama generic Republican, seeking to ride the tide of dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy and avoid the unforced errors that have plagued GOP Senate candidates in other states. He will get a boost on Friday, when Trump travels to the state for a rally with Budd and other North Carolina Republicans.
Democrats are concerned that Budd will largely win approval, despite voting against certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory and his campaign refusing to say whether it would accept the results of the 2022 midterm elections. By avoiding the issues that have stymied Republican Senate candidates in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, he has so far escaped national dazzle or any elevation of his more conservative positions.

Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College, said Budd has “stayed on the fundamentals.”

“Registered Republicans will have a higher turnout rate than Democrats, the mood at midterm is generally against the president’s party,” Bitzer told CNN. “And I think he has those fundamentals to stay on the job until November 8.”

‘Voters don’t think judges are politicians’

Central to Beasley’s campaign is his title: Judge.

His events and press releases are littered with references to his judicial record. When she attacked Budd for voting against legislation that would make it difficult to overturn a presidential election, she said, “As a judge who defended the Constitution for more than two decades, I will stand up to attacks on our democracy.” When South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham proposed a federal abortion ban earlier this month, Beasley criticized it, noting that “as a judge for more than two decades I protected these constitutional rights, and I will not hesitate to vote to protect these liberties in the U.S. senates.”
and his campaign launched an ad earlier this month that highlighted a host of Republican, independent and Democratic judges backing Beasley’s candidacy.

“As judges, our job is not about politics. It’s about standing up for what’s right,” the judges say in the ad.

“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 his paid ads is say, ‘I’ve spent my career looking impartially at an issue and making a decision based on the law.’ That’s something voters crave in this polarizing environment.”

After graduating from the University of Tennessee School of Law in 1991, Beasley spent a few years as a public defender in Cumberland County, North Carolina, before moving up the judicial ladder as a district court judge in Cumberland County. .

Beasley’s first run for statewide judicial office came in 2008, when he successfully ran for the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Four years later, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue appointed her to the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Beasley successfully won a full term on the court in 2014. The Democratic governor. Roy Cooper appointed her chief justice in 2019, making her the first black woman to hold the position. And Beasley’s first run as a Democrat came in 2020, when she unsuccessfully sought a full term as Chief Justice, losing by just 401 votes.
Jackson said this background, along with a focus on an issue like abortion that is motivating Democrats across the country after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “opens an avenue for Beasley to influence voters and even some more moderate Republicans that Democrats haven’t had a chance to reach.”
Budd’s allies, recognizing his appeal, have responded by linking Beasley to special interests and use his judicial decisions to claim that he is soft on crime.

Republicans are hopeful that this strategy, coupled with concerns about all-Democrat control of Washington, could sink Beasley, even if he is running a strong campaign.

“This is the problem for her, and this is the problem for Democrats across the board: Unaffiliated suburban voters are torn between the economy and social issues related to abortion,” said Paul Shumaker, a veteran strategist. Republican in North Carolina. “Democratic voters have a turnout problem with minorities and young people being hit the hardest by inflation.”

Beasley’s campaign has argued that as a historic candidate, she is in a unique position to attract black voters across the state. A key aspect of this operation has been Beasley’s focus on attracting 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 “every North Carolinian, in every part of the state, from every political party.” The campaign, along with the coordinated Democratic campaign in the state, has prioritized outreach to Blacks through Historically Black churches, colleges and universities, and the Historically Black “Divine Nine” sororities and fraternities.

But Democrats have been here before in North Carolina, excited about a statewide candidate who appears well-positioned to win, only for that candidate to narrowly lose on Election Day. That includes 2020, when Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham was scuttled by a sexting scandal. Democrats have not won a US Senate election in the state since 2008.

So far, the race has gone largely unnoticed nationally, something that worries Democrats.

“What worries me is the fact that Budd right now, because he’s not Herschel Walker, because he’s not Blake Masters, because he’s not (Mehmet) Oz, and because he’s so quiet and he’s hidden, he’s just not getting that attention and that negative notoriety,” said a North Carolina Democratic operative close to the Beasley campaign, comparing Budd to Republican Senate nominees in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

The agent added: “Budd’s calculation is that I can get through this and stay quiet.”

‘Sometimes boring and reliable is the way to win’

In Budd, North Carolina may have the closest candidate to a generic Republican.

The 50-year-old former shooting range owner, who was first elected to the House in 2016, represents a district that stretches up and down Interstate 85 and encompasses the suburbs of the Charlotte and Piedmont Triad regions. . In Congress, he has aligned himself with Trump and the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus, acquiring a conservative voting record but indistinguishable from other members of the Republican Conference.

Budd’s low-key approach to his Senate bid is seen as an advantage 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 had raised about $16 million as of June 30, compared with about $6.3 million for Budd. That limited his campaign’s presence on the airwaves, a space Beasley dominated for much of the summer.

Since then, Budd has received help from outside groups, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, set aside $27.6 million in TV ads between Labor Day and Election Day.

by budd first general election announcement for TV, which was paid for by the NRSC, features the congressman in a grocery store, blaming “Biden’s reckless spending” for the “record inflation that is crushing working families in North Carolina.”

In addition to these well-funded pitches to undecided voters, Budd will need to pack the numbers with the Republican base. He will have help in that effort when Trump arrives in Wilmington on Friday for a rally with him and a list of other Republican candidates in the state.

Trump is back in the headlines, and it may cost Republicans in November

But Trump’s visit is not without risks for Budd. Democrats hope the former president will get more involved in the race by reminding swing voters of the 2020 election and anger at the political climate that followed. And Trump’s return to North Carolina will help Democrats highlight Budd’s votes against certifying certain 2020 presidential election results.

Budd has also tried to moderate his tone and stances on other issues that put him at odds with voters in the middle, particularly abortion. Earlier this year, Budd told television station WRAL that he opposes abortion and suggested that he could make exceptions even if the life of the mother is in danger. That has turned into attack ads from Democratic groups, including one of the majority of the Senate PAC which accuses Budd of backing legislation “that could criminalize abortion for women and jail North Carolina doctors.”

Republicans who watched the race told CNN that Budd’s recent co-sponsorship of a 15-week abortion ban, which is less unpopular than an outright ban, may help him appear less extremist on abortion or at least overturn it. Democrat attacks. . But it is a delicate act, they admit.

“How Republicans handle that issue determines whether they will have a good year,” Shumaker said.

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