Beasley, Budd clinch US Senate nods, advance to November election

Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice defeated 10 Democratic U.S. Senate primary opponents. U.S. Rep. Ted Budd defeated 13 Republicans.

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Bryan Anderson, Cullen Browder
Keely Arthur, WRAL News

Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd won the North Carolina Republican primary for U.S. Senate Tuesday, putting himself one step closer to potentially replacing U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

In November, Budd will square off against former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who won the Democratic primary. The matchup between Beasley and Budd could be one of the most expensive and competitive races in the country.

At stake is control of a U.S. Senate that is evenly split 50-50. If Republicans gain a majority, President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda could be stifled.

Beasley had been on a glidepath to her party’s nomination for months. She became the presumptive nominee after state Sen. Jeff Jackson dropped out of the race in December, though 10 other Democrats were still on the primary ballot.

"I am so proud to be your nominee for the United States Senate because while Washington is divided, people here are not," Beasley said Tuesday during a speech in Raleigh.

The GOP primary, meanwhile, has been highlighted by sizable intraparty conflict and outside spending. Budd defeated 13 Republican competitors, including former Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker.

Budd presented himself to voters as the hardline conservative likeliest to win a general election. He ran with the support of former President Donald Trump and Club for Growth Action, an influential political action committee based in Washington, D.C.

After claiming victory, Budd thanked Trump and trumpeted policy priorities of the former president.

“I pledge to my fellow North Carolinians, I will never waver when it comes to fighting for the forgotten men and women in this state and in this country,” Budd said.

Beasley aims for the middle

Beasley will enter the general election with a sizable cash advantage over her Republican opponent. As of April 27, she had nearly $3.3 million in available cash, or about three times as much as Budd.

Beasley sought to present herself as the lone ideologically moderate candidate in either party—a message Republicans will seek to counter in the leadup to the November election.

Budd wasted no time jumping on that message Tuesday, calling Beasley “most radical liberal candidate” to run for U.S. Senate in North Carolina.

The former chief justice this month declined to say during a WRAL News interview whether she’d support any direct financial relief to those with student loans—something others in her party have supported. She’s also spoken out against expanding the size of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is supported by some liberals within her party.

She has also declined to attend events in the state with Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris, citing scheduling issues. It’s an effort some observers see as a deliberate distancing between herself from an administration that public opinion polls show is unpopular.

Still, Beasley supports some major policy changes, including eliminating the filibuster—the 60-vote threshold required in the U.S. Senate for most legislation, unlike some moderate members of her party.

During her acceptance speech Tuesday, Beasley sought to appeal to Republican and Democratic voters, saying that affordable health care, quality schools and fair wages matter to all voters.

“It doesn't matter whether you're a Democrat or Republican,” she said repeatedly.

Beasley also took aim at Budd.

“He will not put North Carolina first,” she said. “He will not fight for what we need and for what we want. And he will always put his own ambitions and the corporate special interests, funding his campaign over the people of this state.”

Beasley had sought to present herself as the likeliest candidate to win in November, citing two past victories in statewide general elections, though both contests were nonpartisan. She defeated her Court of Appeals opponent in 2008 by nearly 15 percentage points before being chosen narrowly by voters in 2014 as an associate justice on the state Supreme Court. She won the 2014 race by about 5,410 votes, or 0.3 percentage points.

The former chief justice entered the U.S. Senate race shortly after a narrow defeat in her 2020 state Supreme Court reelection bid. Of the nearly 5.4 million ballots cast, she lost to Republican Paul Newby by 401 votes.

Budd takes the right lane

On the campaign trail, Budd highlighted his support for gun rights and opposition to abortion. In April, nearly all public opinion polls had Budd ahead of McCrory by double digits, including a WRAL News online survey conducted from April 6 to 10.

McCrory, Budd’s top opponent in this year’s primary, campaigned on a set of more moderate policy views, unsuccessfully seeking to win over unaffiliated voters and those who support Trump’s agenda but may not embrace the former president’s bombastic style. Walker sought to present himself as the most Trump-aligned candidate in the race—an effort that proved difficult after Trump abruptly endorsed Budd at a state party convention in June 2021.

More than $2 million in outside spending bolstered Army combat veteran and political newcomer Marjorie K. Eastman, but she never attracted widespread support.

Budd entered the U.S. Senate race with minimal statewide name recognition and divided attention as the lone sitting member of Congress running in the Republican primary. After chipping away at McCrory’s lead throughout 2021 and early 2022, Budd started to overtake McCrory in early March as his presence in the state grew more visible. After more than a year of campaigning, the congressman concluded his tour of all of the state’s 100 counties.

He stuck to a disciplined strategy that allowed him to minimize his political mistakes.

Such caution also prompted scrutiny from his competitors and made for a highly divisive GOP primary. Budd declined to participate in the four GOP Senate debates, confounding opponents and preventing them from establishing a clear contrast.

At other campaign events, McCrory and Walker portrayed Budd as the candidate most beholden to outside interests. Club for Growth Action committed to spend $14 million ahead of the May 17 election to boost Budd’s prospects. The organization inundated the state with television ads that touted Trump’s support of Budd and questioned McCrory’s conservative credentials.

Budd’s political start began in 2016 with a successful primary bid in a 17-person primary field. He won the general election in 2016 and has represented the surrounding Greensboro area ever since. He faced a tough challenge from then-Democratic candidate Kathy Manning in 2018 and won more easily under a more favorable congressional map in 2020.