North Carolina Senate race tests Trump’s support power

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

As he enters the final stages before the state’s May 17 primary, Budd is again hoping for a boost, banking on the power of Trump’s support to put him at the top of a field that has a dozen Other Republicans are involved.

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

Bud’s candidacy will serve as an early test of whether Trump’s endorsement is powerful enough to lift someone above the relative obscurity of the GOP nomination for a crucial Senate seat. A strong performance by Bud could offer clues as to how Trump-backed candidates in other states, including Georgia, will vote in quick succession after North Carolina.

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

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

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

Trump will return to the state on Saturday for a rally in rural Johnson County, southeast of Raleigh. He was a boon to North Carolina Republicans in the 2020 campaign, increasing turnout so that GOP candidates — with a few exceptions — won races up and down the ballot, even as Trump himself only Made out with a win.

Budd is running to retire from the seat of Republican Sen. Richard Burr against former Governor Pat McCrory, who is seen 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 US Representative Mark Walker, who has resisted Trump’s urge to exit.

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

While McCrory entered the race as its most famous candidate, Budd and his advisors are increasingly optimistic that his position is strengthening in the final weeks of the race.

Budd credits Trump’s support as “the biggest factor helping this campaign move forward and gain attention.” He has also benefited from millions of dollars in Super PAC spending on his behalf, including the political wing of the Club for Growth. The group’s ads featured heavily supporting Trump, casting Bud as a credible conservative, while highlighting McCrory’s past criticism of the former president and calling him an “incredible, liberal loser.” As slogan.

McCrory became governor in 2013 but lost re-election after signing a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people costing the state billions.

Saturday’s rally came amid questions about whether Trump’s influence is waning amid stumbling blocks 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, Sean Parnell, the candidate he endorsed in the Pennsylvania Senate race dropped out amid allegations of abuse by his ex-wife.

As aides warn he is setting himself up for failure by offering too much support, Trump has barred himself from taking sides in several competitive Senate contests, including Missouri and Ohio, where early voting is underway.

Seeing Walker as a potential spoiler, Trump has made no use of pressuring him to leave the race – a tactic he has used successfully in other contests to increase the chances of his favorite candidates.

The top vote getter must get 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 he’s done for our country, but that doesn’t mean he makes the right decisions and sometimes gets bad advice,” Walker said in an interview. “And in this particular incident, he has tied his wagon to the wrong horse.”

Meanwhile, McCrory rejected the vote this week, saying he had lost his early lead, saying it was time to 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, with $7 to $8 million spent against us from a special interest group in DC, McCrory said in an undisclosed reference to Club for Growth Action.

Many voters have yet to make up their mind, with early individual voting from April 28.

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

Billy Shoemaker, a retired commercial pilot from Beach Mountain, said he supports Buddha regardless of Trump’s support. “I like President Trump. I don’t like everything he does,” said the 68-year-old shoemaker.

Trump’s favorite candidate in North Carolina hasn’t always been successful. In 2020, political newcomer Madison Cawthorne comfortably won the GOP congressional primary runoff over the likes of Trump.

But Trump soon embraced Cawthorne, who won the general election at age 25 and became one of the former president’s strongest supporters. Now, Trump is returning the favor, pitching him as a rallying speaker and backing him for re-election, even as Cawthorne reacts to recent incendiary comments. has suffered.

McCrory said he got his own political schedule on Saturday and would not share the stage with Budd, Cawthorne or Trump, even if offered.

Trump “says I don’t represent his values,” McCrory said, referring to the former president’s words when he endorsed Buddha 10 months ago. “I agree with Trump’s policies. But yes, we may have different opinions about values.”

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Colvin reported from New York.

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