Beasley, Budd agree to debate in key US Senate contest

North Carolina's top candidates for U.S. Senate will participate in a debate hosted by Spectrum News on Oct. 7.

Posted Updated
Cheri Beasley (left) and Ted Budd (right)
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd will square off in an Oct. 7 debate, both campaigns confirmed Wednesday.

The candidates, who are competing to replace outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, will seek to make the case to voters why they are most fit for office and why their party should be the one that controls a U.S. Senate that is evenly split along party lines.

Among the many items at stake this election cycle is President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. In North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race and other congressional races, Democrats have sought to make the possibility of increased abortion restrictions at the federal level an animating issue. Beasley’s campaign on Monday cited Budd’s support in the U.S. House for a newly proposed bill banning abortion after 15 weeks as a source of concern.

Republicans, meanwhile, have largely sought to appeal to voters’ economic frustration, arguing that a change in congressional leadership is needed to combat rising costs consumers have faced since Biden took office. Budd has sought to paint Beasley as a rubber stamp for Biden’s policies even as she distances herself from the administration.

The Oct. 7 debate is scheduled to be hosted by Spectrum News. Beasley agreed to an additional debate hosted by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters debate, which Budd has declined.

Jonathan Felts, Budd’s top campaign adviser, said in a statement that the campaign looks forward to Beasley “explaining why she keeps embracing Joe Biden’s reckless spending policies that are driving up inflation and crushing family budgets across NC.”

Beasley has said she’d welcome Biden’s presence in the state but hasn’t committed to campaigning with him. “I certainly welcome the president to come and to hear from folks about our challenges but also our successes in this state,” Beasley told reporters at a Durham event last month. “I’m glad for him to be here and certainly would love to have that conversation with his team if he’s on the way.

The U.S. Senate debate stands to shed light on two candidates voters may not know much about. It could also establish a clear contrast over the direction the state should go in.

While Budd entered the primary under a more favorable national political climate, public opinion polls show a tight race. Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh and Libertarian Shannon Bray are also on the November ballot.

Neither Budd nor Beasley participated in a U.S. Senate primary debate. Beasley had no viable opponents in the last five months of her primary campaign. Budd, meanwhile, declined to attend four debates with two Republican competitors, former Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker.

Travis Brimm, Beasley’s campaign manager, criticized Budd’s history of avoiding conversations with political opponents.

“After Congressman Budd dodged debates in the primary, spent most of this summer hiding from voters and refused to participate in a statewide debate available to the most North Carolinians, Cheri is prepared and ready to meet Congressman Budd on his preferred debate stage — because she believes that every North Carolinian deserves to see the clear choice before them this Fall,” Brimm said in a statement.

Felts has taken exception to concerns over the congressman’s level of campaign activity, noting the congressman completed his tour of all 100 counties in North Carolina ahead of the May 17 primary.

“He thinks that if you’re going to represent the whole state, you’ve got to look people in the eye, shake their hand and ask for the vote right there in their home county,” Felts said of Budd. “That’s what he wanted to make a priority and that’s what he’s done, and he continues to campaign around the state.”

Felts said that between May 18 and Aug. 31, Budd had 113 public events in North Carolina with in-person voter interactions since the primary ended, but noted the congressman was out of the state for 30 days due to his Washington, D.C., schedule. Beasley’s campaign says the former state Supreme Court chief justice held 59 public events over the same stretch.

Nonetheless, political onlookers view Beasley as the more accessible candidate. Her campaign has sent out more media advisories and appeared more receptive to taking questions from reporters. She announced on Wednesday that she’d hold 13 events from Friday to Sunday that are open to the public and members of the media.

“Budd is running the quietest U.S. Senate campaign in a purple state that I’ve ever seen,” said Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political scientist.

Felts reiterated the campaign’s efforts to speak with voters across the state.