North Carolina Senate race tests Trump’s endorsement power

Apr 8, 2022, 9:08 PM | Updated: Apr 11, 2022, 6:51 am

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When Ted Budd won a surprise endorsement from former President Donald Trump last year, he was a little-known congressman running for a Senate seat in North Carolina against some of the state’s most recognizable Republicans, including a former governor.

As he enters the final stretch before the state’s May 17 primary, Budd is again hoping for a boost, banking on the power of Trump’s endorsement to put him on top of a field that includes a dozen other Republicans.

“We feel we’ve got strong momentum,” Budd told The Associated Press. “Whether it’s grassroots, trend lines in polling or fundraising, we think we’re in a very good place.”

Budd’s candidacy will serve as an early test of whether Trump’s backing is powerful enough to lift someone from relative obscurity to the GOP nomination for a critical Senate seat. A strong showing by Budd could provide clues about how Trump-backed candidates in other states, including Georgia, that vote in quick succession after North Carolina, will fare.

The race “will be a test of the Trump effect on North Carolina among North Carolina Republicans, I think not just for North Carolina but nationally,” said Mike Rusher, a political consultant who previously worked for the state GOP.

Democrats have made inroads across the South in recent years, winning a presidential election in Georgia in 2020 for the first time in 28 years and picking up two Senate seats.

North Carolina has experienced similar demographic changes, driven by an influx of new residents to the Raleigh and Charlotte areas. But for now, Democrats have struggled to make the same progress in the state’s presidential and Senate races. Barack Obama was the last Democratic presidential contender to carry North Carolina in 2008, and a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat since Kay Hagan the same year.

Trump returned to the state on Saturday for a rally in rural Johnston County, just southeast of Raleigh, where he hyped Budd as “a great guy” and a “tremendous person.”

“Some people didn’t know him, but now they know him,” he said.

Trump was a boon to North Carolina Republicans in the 2020 campaign, boosting turnout so that GOP candidates — with few exceptions — won races up and down the ballot even as Trump himself only narrowly eked out a win.

Budd is running for retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s seat against former Gov. Pat McCrory, who is viewed as a moderate and has kept some distance from Trump while backing his economic policies. A dozen other Republicans are also seeking the nomination, including former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who has resisted Trump’s entreaties to drop out.

The winner is expected to take on presumptive Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, in November’s general election. Like nearly all statewide races, the general election should be close, and a Democratic victory could thwart GOP hopes of retaking the Senate majority.

While McCrory entered the race as its best-known candidate, Budd and his advisers are increasingly optimistic that his position is strengthening in the race’s final weeks.

Budd credited Trump’s endorsement as “the single biggest factor to help advance and get attention on this campaign.” He has also benefited from millions of dollars in super PAC spending on his behalf, including from the Club for Growth’s political wing. The group’s ads heavily feature Trump’s endorsement, casting Budd as a reliable conservative while highlighting McCrory’s past criticism of the former president and slamming him as a “disloyal, liberal loser.”

McCrory became governor in 2013 but lost reelection after he signed a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people that cost the state billions.

Saturday’s rally comes amid questions over whether Trump’s influence is fading amid stumbles in other states. Last month, he withdrew his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks, who was struggling to gain traction in Alabama’s Senate primary. Last year, his endorsed candidate in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, Sean Parnell, dropped out amid allegations of abuse by his estranged wife.

As aides have warned that he is setting himself up for failure by offering too many endorsements, Trump has held off picking sides in several competitive Senate contests, including in Missouri and Ohio, where early voting is underway.

Seeing Walker as a potential spoiler, Trump has tried to no avail to pressure him to leave the race — a tactic he has used successfully in other contests to bolster his favored candidates’ chances.

The top vote-getter must garner more than 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff. Otherwise, the top two finishers advance to a runoff in late July.

“Look, we appreciate President Trump and the work that he did for our country, but it doesn’t mean that he makes the right decisions and sometimes he gets bad counsel,” Walker said in an interview. “And in this particular incident, he has hitched his wagon to the wrong horse.”

McCrory, meanwhile, dismissed polling out this week suggesting he had lost his early edge, saying there’s time for a counterattack.

“This race is going to be a dead heat. It’s neck and neck right now, and it’s amazing that we’re even in that position, considering $7 to $8 million have been spent against us from a special interest group in D.C.,” McCrory said in an unnamed reference to Club for Growth Action.

Many voters have yet to make up their minds, with early in-person voting beginning April 28.

John Dismukes, 48, of Carolina Beach describes himself as “100% undecided.” “I’m looking at all three of them,” he said.

Billy Shomaker, a retired commercial pilot from Beech Mountain, said he supports Budd regardless of Trump’s endorsement. “I like President Trump. I don’t like everything he does,” said Shomaker, 68.

Trump’s preferred candidates in North Carolina haven’t always been successful. In 2020, political newcomer Madison Cawthorn comfortably won a GOP congressional primary runoff over Trump’s pick.

But Trump soon embraced Cawthorn, who won the general election at age 25 and became one of the ex-president’s strongest supporters. Now, Trump is returning the favor, featuring him as a rally speaker and endorsing him for reelection even as Cawthorn has faced backlash over recent incendiary comments.

McCrory said he had other events to attend Saturday and wouldn’t have shared the stage with Budd, Cawthorn or Trump even if offered.

Trump “says I don’t represent his values,” McCrory said, referencing the former president’s words when he endorsed Budd 10 months ago. “I agree with the policies of Trump. But yeah, we maybe have different opinion on values.”


Colvin reported from New York.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Sunflowers suffer from lack of water, as Europe is under an unusually extreme heat wave, in Beaumon...
Associated Press

France in midst of 4th heat wave amid historic drought

PARIS (AP) — France was in the midst of its fourth heat wave of the year Monday as the country faces what the government warned is its worst drought on record. National weather agency Meteo France said the heat wave began in the south and is expected to spread across the country and last until […]
9 hours ago
FILE  - This Sunday, April 5, 2020, file photo, shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter m...
Associated Press

Researchers ask Census to stop controversial privacy method

Prominent demographers are asking the U.S. Census Bureau to abandon a controversial method for protecting survey and census participants’ confidentiality, saying it is jeopardizing the usability of numbers that are the foundation of the nation’s data infrastructure. The Census Bureau embraced using differential privacy algorithms for the first time with the release last year of […]
9 hours ago
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks about the economy during a news conference at the Treasury...
Associated Press

US issues sanctions on a 2nd virtual currency mixing firm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on virtual currency mixer Tornado Cash, which has allegedly helped to launder more than $7 billion worth of virtual currency since its creation in 2019. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control says Tornado Cash’s systems were used to launder more than $96 million drawn from the […]
9 hours ago
Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate meets with supporters as part of her final push across...
Associated Press

Kleefisch downplays Trump endorsement on final swing

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch downplayed Donald Trump’s endorsement and rally for her opponent during her final campaign push across Wisconsin Monday, declining to respond to the former president’s criticisms. Kleefisch faces Trump-endorsed Tim Michels in Tuesday’s primary, with the winner advancing to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Trump derided […]
9 hours ago
This image released by Viking shows "Diary of a Void" by Emi Yagi. (Viking via AP)...
Associated Press

Review: Fake pregnancy transforms lonely salarywoman’s life

“Diary of a Void,” by Emi Yagi (Viking) Shibata-san, the only woman in her office group, is tired of cleaning up after the men. One day, when her section head asks her why dirty coffee cups are still lying around hours after a meeting, she improvises an astonishing lie. “I’m pregnant. The smell of coffee […]
9 hours ago
This image released by William Morrow shows "Heat 2" by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner. (William Mor...
Associated Press

Review: Slick crime novel ‘Heat 2’ revisits a classic movie

“Heat 2: A Novel” by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner (William Morrow) Hollywood screenwriter and director Michael Mann and veteran thriller writer Meg Gardiner have achieved a rarity with their novel “Heat 2”: a screen-to-page sequel that stands tall on its own. When the screen goes dark at the end of Mann’s 1995 crime drama […]
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
North Carolina Senate race tests Trump’s endorsement power