Beasley, Budd in close race for US Senate seat, WRAL News poll shows

Democratic former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Burr are running to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

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Bryan Anderson, WRAL state government reporter,
Laura Leslie, WRAL capitol bureau chief
Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd are locked in a tight race for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat, according to a WRAL News poll. And stances on gun control in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Texas could be giving Beasley an edge, pollsters say.
With less than five months until the November election, the poll of of likely general election voters shows Beasley leading Budd by 4 percentage points in what is expected to be among the most expensive and competitive races in the country this year.

While 44% of respondents said they’d support Beasley, 40% favored Budd, according to the poll. About one in seven likely voters were undecided. Of the 650 likely voters polled, 37% were affiliated with the Republican Party, while 34% said they were affiliated with the Democratic Party and 27% identified as independent.

The scientific poll, which was conducted from June 8 to 12 in partnership with SurveyUSA, shows Beasley’s lead within the credibility interval of 5.1 percentage points. A credibility interval is similar to margin of error but takes into account more factors and is therefore considered by some pollsters to be a more accurate measurement of statistical certainty.

Beasley and Budd are running to fill the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. The outcome could determine which party controls the chamber that is evenly split. If Republicans regain a majority, President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda could come to a halt.

The two Senate candidates handily won their party nominations last month to advance to the November election. Budd, who has represented a district outside Greensboro in the U.S. House since 2017, faced a far more divisive primary. Beasley, who served as chief justice of the state Supreme Court before a narrow 2020 court election defeat, became her party’s presumptive U.S. Senate nominee after other viable candidates dropped out late last year.

Beasley has sought to position herself as the more moderate candidate in the race, betting that a progressive-but-not-too-progressive strategy will garner wider appeal than Budd, a hardline conservative.

Beasley entered the home stretch of her primary with a sizable cash advantage over Budd. As of April 27, her available cash of nearly $3.3 million was about three times greater than what Budd had at his disposal.

Outside political groups, meanwhile, have also been spending big on attack ads. The National Republican Senatorial Committee released two ads accusing Beasley of failing victims of crime. Several TV stations, in a rare move, decided to stop running one ad because it determined the ad contained false or misleading claims. The NRSC made changes to the advertisement and a revised ad is being aired. Federal campaign finance filings show the NRSC has spent more than $4 million this election cycle in opposition to Beasley, while the pro-Beasley Senate Majority PAC has put in nearly $2 million to bolster the Democrat.

During the primary, Budd benefited from more than $12 million in outside spending from Club for Growth, a Washington, D.C., political action group.

Gun control

The WRAL News poll comes on the heels of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which could have bolstered Beasley’s chances, according to SurveyUSA.

Most North Carolinians want lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws, according to separate WRAL News poll results released earlier in the week. They also fear they or a family member may become a victim of a mass shooting.

Budd, who owns a gun store and shooting range, has spoken critically of federal restrictions that might limit firearm access. His campaign website says “any encroachment of the Second Amendment won’t stop criminals—it will only undermine the ability to defend yourself and protect your family.”

If elected, Beasley would support raising the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21. She also supports the hiring of more school resource officers to help keep children safe, according to her campaign.

She also supports a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators, including Burr, that includes more comprehensive background checks for prospective gun owners below the age of 21, stronger protections for domestic abuse victims, increased access to mental health and suicide prevention programs and more funding for school violence prevention efforts and student supportive services.

Budd’s office said the congressman doesn’t yet have a comment on the plan since “there is no legislative text on this, only a broad framework.”

"Events over the past few weeks have really kind of changed things," said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh. "And I think the shooting and Uvalde, Texas, and in Buffalo, N.Y., may have at least temporarily shifted the momentum to Cheri Beasley."

Because the race is close, said Ken Alper, president of SurveyUSA, "that little bit of a turnout differential, that motivation can really be a factor." But the issue’s importance to voters could fade as the election nears, Alper said, especially if the Senate reaches a deal that would include some gun restrictions, improved school safety and mental health programs.

A spokesman for Budd didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the poll.

Alper and McLennan think the legal battle over Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion case that is expected to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, could also be motivating women voters.

"I think those two key issues of abortion and gun rights are going to be at least for the summer, very important issues, whether they are by the time we get to November that's open for discussion."

Beasley fared best in the poll among women, moderates, urban residents, college graduates, gun control supporters and lower-income residents. Beasley also received plurality support among all age groups.

“North Carolinians know they can trust her to put our families first and fight for what's best for North Carolina,” Dory MacMillan, a spokeswoman for Beasley, said in a statement after the poll was released.

Budd outperformed Beasley among men, white people, those with a high school degree or less and Charlotte-area residents.

Voters who consider themselves ideologically moderate favored Beasley by a 28-point margin, though registered unaffiliated voters preferred Beasley by 2 points.

Since their primary victories, Beasley and Budd have sought to present their opponent as too ideologically extreme to win in a general election.
Budd received an endorsement from former President Donald Trump in June 2021, while Beasley has appeared to distance herself from Biden by not attending events with him in the state.


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