Cunningham sidesteps talk of affair to focus on voters in closing days of Senate campaign

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham has been quietly campaigning across North Carolina following news of an affair he had with a fellow service member's spouse.

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Joe Fisher
, WRAL multimedia journalist
WILSON, N.C. — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham has been quietly campaigning across North Carolina following news of an affair he had with a fellow service member’s spouse.

In recent weeks, his campaign has not publicized any appearances, but WRAL News caught up with him Thursday as he met with voters outside the Wilson County Board of Elections office.

"I’ve been trying to talk directly to voters here in North Carolina. We’ve been hitting the early vote sites across the state," Cunningham said. "We are trying to make sure we engage voters here in North Carolina on the issues they tell us they want their senator working on."

Arlene Guzman Todd, a public relations strategist from California and the wife of an Army veteran, said recently that she and Cunningham had an affair earlier this year. Cunningham has acknowledged only that he sent her inappropriate text messages, and he has refused to answer questions about whether he has had other affairs.

He maintained that wall of silence Thursday, deflecting every question about his personal life by pivoting to the issue of health care, which has become the main theme of his campaign.

"The folks we are talking to, voters, tell me they want a senator focused on expanding health care and bringing down costs. They want a senator who is going to provide COVID aid until we can defeat this virus," he said. "Those are the things North Carolinians are talking to us about, and we’re laying out plans, making sure they understand the way I would go to bat for the people of this state."

When pressed on the issue, Cunningham tried to shut down the questioning.

"Respectfully, I’ve said what I am going to say about this, he said. "I am happy to talk about the issues that the voters are bringing up with me – health care, the economy, jobs, education – these are the things that they want a senator to go to bat for them on."

A WRAL News poll released Wednesday shows the 10-point lead Cunningham held two weeks ago over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has narrowed to three points, 48-45 percent.

"We’ve always known this race was going to come down to the wire," he said, ignoring a question about whether his infidelity could have played a role in the shifting numbers. "As I’ve been saying throughout the campaign, North Carolina doesn’t do landslides. We do squeakers, and true to form, this Senate race is almost certainly going to be close."

Tillis' campaign and outside groups have hammered Cunningham in recent weeks with television ads calling his honor and integrity into question. Cunningham is an officer in the Army Reserve, which is investigating his conduct.

Although a majority of respondents in the poll said Cunningham's refusal to answer questions about possible affairs doesn't affect the way they vote, 31 percent said it would make them much less likely to support him.

"I feel like that’s a personal issue, and, in terms of politics, talking about personal things should not be brought up in a professional setting," said Catherine Leake of the Wilson County Democratic Party.

Cunningham said he remains confident in the closing days of the campaign.

"We are getting wonderful feedback across North Carolina," he said. "We’ve always known this race was going to be close, but we are staying focused on the things – health care and the economy – that matter in the lives of the people of our state, and I think we are going to be successful next week."


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