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GOP-affiliated group intervenes in NC Democratic primary for US Senate seat

Posted February 5, 2020 6:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2020 7:27 p.m. EST

— The first significant ad buy for state Sen. Erica Smith, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, appears to be backed by Republicans.

Faith and Power, a new political action committee with ties to Republicans, formally launched on Jan. 29 and quickly placed a $1.56 million broadcast ad in the Democratic primary, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission and the Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group.

The ad aims to boost Smith over Cal Cunningham, who has been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and has raised significantly more money.

"Who's the Democrat for U.S. Senate endorsed by progressives and unions? Erica Smith," says the ad's narrator. "Who's got the courage to vote for 'Medicare for All'? Erica Smith. The No. 1 supporter of the Green New Deal? Erica Smith again."

"Erica Smith is one of us – a high school educator, engineer, state senator and ordained minister," adds the narrator. "Vote Democrat Erica Smith for U.S. Senate, the only proven progressive."

Smith's campaign issued a statement Thursday night dissociating her from Faith and Power.

"I remain unbought, unbossed and unapologetic in my 17 years of advocating for equity, opportunity and fairness," Smith said in the statement.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who may prefer to run against Smith. Her campaign had on hand less than $100,000 at the end of 2019. Cunningham's campaign, meanwhile, had more than $1.7 million.

"Washington Republicans know Senator Tillis is weak, and apparently they don't like his chances against me in November. Now they’re resorting to shady tactics to meddle in our election – and it’s disrespectful to North Carolina voters," Cunningham tweeted.

"The only people that are ‘scared’ are the Washington Democrats calling for dark money to come save their unknown Cal Cunningham in his primary against Erica Smith," the National Republican Senatorial Committee shot back. "With a record of delivering results for the people of North Carolina, Thom Tillis is running this race from a position of strength. Whether Cunningham’s campaign of ‘misleading’ voters and ‘improper’ coordinating comes to an end in March or November, we have full confidence it will end the same way his last one did: in a loss."

The media buyer, Neylan and Partners, has worked on behalf of Republican campaigns before, including a super PAC supporting Carly Fiorina's 2016 presidential campaign as well as Americans for Tax Reform.

Neylan and Partners did not immediately respond to a phone call for comment.

The ad will play from Thursday till Feb. 19 in major media markets in the state, including Charlotte, Greenville, Raleigh and Greensboro.

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