North Carolina Senate race tests Trump’s endorsement power

Apr 8, 2022, 9:08 PM | Updated: Apr 11, 2022, 6:51 am
FILE - In this June 5, 2021, photo, former President Donald Trump, right, announces his endorsement...

FILE - In this June 5, 2021, photo, former President Donald Trump, right, announces his endorsement of North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd, left, for the 2022 North Carolina U.S. Senate seat as he speaks at the North Carolina Republican Convention in Greenville, N.C. When Budd won a surprise endorsement from 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. (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

(AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

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.

AP

Associated Press

Woman charged after 1,000 pigs found dead at Iowa site

SAC CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa woman is facing criminal charges after more than 1,000 pigs were found dead on a property. KCCI-TV reports that the Sac County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call Thursday and found the animals dead at two confinement sites. Authorities say 33-year-old Elana Laber was responsible for maintaining the […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Police and other first responders work the scene where officials say dozens of people have b...
Associated Press

Texas’ border mission grows, but crossings still high

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Following the horror of a human-smuggling attempt that left 53 people dead, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state troopers to inspect more trucks — again expanding a border security mission that has cost billions, given the National Guard arrest powers and bused migrants to Washington, D.C. What Abbott’s get-tough plans haven’t […]
8 hours ago
Mohammed Nazir from London, poses on a giant rainbow flag, during the Pride in London parade, in Lo...
Associated Press

Pride parade returns in London on 50th anniversary

LONDON (AP) — The streets of London were filled with color on Saturday as the U.K. capital marked 50 years of Pride. A vibrant crowd of hundreds of thousands turned out to either take part in or watch the festivities, forming a spectacle of rainbow flags, glitter and sequins. After two years of cancellations because […]
8 hours ago
Travelers arrive on foot at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport while airport workers demonstrate, lef...
Associated Press

Stuck bags add to tangles at Paris airports amid travel boom

Airlines worked Saturday to deliver luggage to passengers around the world after a technical breakdown left at least 1,500 bags stuck at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, the latest of several tangles hitting travelers this summer. The airport’s baggage sorting system had a technical malfunction Friday that caused 15 flights to depart without luggage, leaving […]
8 hours ago
FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2018, file photo, an early morning fog rises where 17 memorial crosses were...
Associated Press

Parkland jurors must manage trial stress on their own

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The jurors chosen this past week to decide whether Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz is executed will visit a bloodstained crime scene, view graphic photos and videos and listen to intense emotional testimony — an experience that they will have to manage entirely on their own. Throughout what is expected […]
8 hours ago
FILE - An overnight individual egg strata is shown April 4, 2016, in Concord, N.H. Federal regulati...
Associated Press

From AM to PM, the fickle force of government is with you

WASHINGTON (AP) — When you groggily roll out of bed and make breakfast, the government edges up to your kitchen table, too. Unlike you, it’s perky. It’s an unseen force in your morning. The government makes sure you can see the nutrients in your cereal. It fusses over your toast, insisting that the flour it […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
North Carolina Senate race tests Trump’s endorsement power