RALEIGH, N.C. — Following the announcement of three-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s retirement, next year’s Senate election in North Carolina was already expected to be one of the closest races of the cycle — but a handful of recent developments that have helped thin the herd in both parties’ primary fields have shaken things up significantly.
Earlier this week, Fox News reported that former Rep. Mark Walker, who last December became the first major candidate to announce his entry into the race, would withdraw to pursue an open House seat in the newly-redrawn seventh district. Walker retired in 2020 after a court-ordered redrawing of his old district transformed it into a Democratic stronghold, which Rep. Kathy Manning was later elected to represent.
Walker’s departure leaves us with what is likely to be a hotly-contested primary between Rep. Ted Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory.
Despite trailing McCrory in each of the very few Republican primary polls conducted thus far, Budd has been viewed as the candidate with the upper hand in the race — primarily because he received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump last June.
A Trump endorsement is generally viewed as the most versatile tool in any Republican candidate’s political arsenal, and more often than not works to that candidate’s advantage — particularly in decidedly conservative areas of the country.
And while North Carolina is consistently a very competitive swing state, I’d generally much rather be a Republican running for statewide office there than a Democrat — especially in our current political climate. And I’d certainly imagine Trump to be far less of a political poison pill for a North Carolina Republican than he would be for someone like incoming Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose campaign strategy largely revolved around keeping the former president at arm’s length.
McCrory is also currently outraising Budd by roughly $158,000 — a margin that is far from insurmountable. Fundraising also tends to mean very little in electoral politics, with candidates boasting huge financial backings often underperforming drastically at the polls.
Meanwhile, following the withdrawal of socialist-endorsed progressive Erica Smith — who decided to forego her Senate campaign in favor the race to succeed retiring Democrat Rep. G.K. Butterfield — Democrats have a head-to-head primary of their own quietly rearing its head — one that will likely pit Cheri Beasley, a former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, against State Sen. Jeff Jackson.
Polling decidedly favors Beasley, who has slowly been making polling gains to the point where she’s shored up nearly 40% of the vote. Jackson, meanwhile, has consistently hovered around 25%, but has a fundraising advantage of about $118,000 — likely in part due to his unorthodox campaign strategy, where he seems to have taken a page from the Beto O’Rourke playbook and visited each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
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