Budd embraces Trump and opposition to abortion in North Carolina Senate race
By GARY D. ROBERTSON and STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — In competitive races across the United States, Republican candidates are distancing themselves from their party’s most controversial policies and people — namely abortion and former President Donald Trump – as Election Day approaches.
North Carolina’s GOP Senate candidate is leaning in support of abortion restrictions and friendship with the Republican former president as Democrats battle for an elusive victory in the Southern swing state.
Democratic optimism remains muted given the state’s recent red tilt, but Democratic officials believe Budd, a low-key congressman who emerged as the GOP Senate nominee largely because of Trump’s backing, gives them a real shot at overturning a siege — and maintaining the balance of power in Washington — this fall.
In defiance of his critics, Budd is expected to appear alongside Trump Friday night at a rally in Wilmington. The Budd campaign was eager to host Trump when the former president’s team called, according to adviser Jonathan Felts.
“Trump has won North Carolina twice, and an in-person rally is helpful,” Felts said, suggesting that Trump would help boost turnout, especially “with unaffiliated and/or undecided voters concerned about the economy”.
“The more Trump emerges, the more Trump is in the news, the better for Democrats,” said David Holian, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Indeed, Trump remains hugely popular with Republican voters, but is less appealing to moderates and independents who often decide elections in swing states. Trump’s favorable national ratings have been roughly equal to or worse than President Joe Biden’s in recent weeks.
Still, some North Carolina Democrats are far from confident in a state where they have suffered painful losses in recent years.
Democratic skepticism comes despite the apparent strength of their Senate nominee, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who has a decisive fundraising advantage, a record outperformance over the fellow Democrats in statewide elections and a moderate message. She would be the state’s first black female senator if elected.
Yet Beasley is also battling negative perceptions of his party.
Trump’s rise has fueled a growing sense among some voters in North Carolina, as well as those in many other states, that the national Democratic Party has lost touch with the daily struggles of the working class and similar electoral blocs. The Democrat-controlled Congress’ focus on climate change, for example, hasn’t helped inspire voters like Talmage Layton, a 74-year-old farmer from Durham.
Layton said he doesn’t know if a North Carolina Democrat can make a difference on Capitol Hill by lowering gas prices or pushing back on climate change policies that other Democrats have embraced.
“It’s nothing against Cheri Beasley,” Layton said after a recent reunion with Beasley. “I’m a registered Democrat, and I would have no problem voting for a Democrat. But they have to think about the little guy here.
Not so long ago, it looked like the Democratic Party was poised to take control of North Carolina politics.
In 2008, Obama carried the state, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1976, and Democrat Kay Hagan upset GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole. Political pundits predicted that the Democratic Party would become dominant due to increasing urbanization and out-of-state liberals moving in for tech jobs in the Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte areas.
But Republicans retook the state legislature for the first time in more than 140 years after the 2010 election and held onto it with support from exurban and rural voters and favorably drawn districts. A decade later, Trump has become a two-time winner of North Carolina, despite winning the 2020 election by just 1 percentage point.
As Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper managed to win re-election in 2020, Beasley was one of the party’s casualties. She lost her bid to remain chief justice to a Republican rival by just 401 votes.
Her near miss turned her into a rising contender in the race to succeed retired GOP Senator Richard Burr.
In a sign of strength, Beasley has always raised more money than Budd. And she appears to be building momentum by seizing abortion to energize women and independents, drawing on the same playbook Democrats have used elsewhere.
Budd, meanwhile, has been outspoken in his opposition to abortion. He co-sponsored a House version of a 15-week nationwide abortion ban introduced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham that even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell distanced himself from.
“My opponent has been in Congress for six years, and every time he had the opportunity to vote for North Carolina, he voted against us,” Beasley charged after meeting farmers at a produce market in Durham before Graham’s Bill was introduced.
Meanwhile, Republicans in competitive elections in states including Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona have distanced themselves from their rigid anti-abortion stances in recent weeks. Others have stripped their websites of references to Trump or his favorite talking points.
In Virginia, a Republican House candidate removed a Trump reference from her Twitter bio. In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc backfired sharply last week when asked about Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. After spending much of the last year echoing Trump’s lies, Bolduc told Fox News he did more research and concluded, “The election wasn’t stolen.
Meanwhile, Budd’s campaign this week declined to say whether he would accept the 2022 election results, having already voted to block certification of the 2020 election.
Such positions will almost certainly appeal to Trump’s base, but political operatives say Budd needs strong support from moderate and independent voters to succeed. This year, unaffiliated voters overtook Democrats to become the largest bloc of registered voters in the state.
“Whatever your religious background, you face soaring energy prices. You face high grocery costs. You are dealing with high crime. You face economic uncertainty,” Budd said after speaking to pastors in Greenville recently. “And so I want to improve the lives of all the people of North Carolina and the people of our country through the things that I support.”
As Budd struggles to keep pace with Beasley’s fundraising, outside groups have come to his aid.
The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund and the National Republican Senate Committee spent a combined $17.3 million to publicize Beasley, according to documents filed by the Federal Election Commission. The Senate Majority Fund, which backs Democratic candidates, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee have spent nearly $4 million in North Carolina while investing significantly more in high-profile contests in states like Pennsylvania. and Arizona.
“We are committed to ensuring voters continue to see and hear the truth about Ted Budd,” said Senate Majority Fund spokeswoman Veronica Woo.
A branch of the pro-abortion EMILY list announced this month that it is spending $2.7 million to also criticize Budd on abortion.
During a recent stop at Perkins Orchard in Durham, Beasley chatted with farmers who gathered around picnic tables and near fresh pumpkins for sale. Some said afterwards that they were happy to see his interest in their plight.
Jason Lindsay, 34, a first-generation black farmer from Rocky Mount, said he was frustrated with the divisive political environment but is encouraged by Beasley.
“His temper here today gave me the first sign of hope I’ve had in a long time,” he said.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.