• Donna King / Carolina Journal

Trump, McConnell direct focus to Budd with ad blitz and rally


Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC, speaks at the Save America rally on April 9, 2022 in Selma, N.C. Photo by Tim Robbins, Carolina Journal

Getting Ted Budd to the U.S. Senate appears to be a top priority for national Republicans. In campaign spending reports out Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund PAC spent more than $3.4 million in ads for the North Carolina congressman this week.


The blitz of ads comes as former President Donald Trump announces plans to come to N.C. to campaign for Budd in Wilmington on Sept. 23.


The Senate Leadership Fund has put $46 million into supporting Republicans so far this election, making it the biggest SuperPAC in terms of spending in this year’s midterms. Republicans need to flip just one seat in the U.S. Senate to take the majority and put the brakes on the Biden agenda.


“It makes sense to me that both parties are coming to grips with the fact that this is as tight a race as they come,” said Chris Cooper, director of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University. “For McConnell’s PAC to be putting money in this race says Republicans could lose, and they are trying to make sure that they don’t.”


More than $20 million of that spending was deployed last week as part of a seven-state focus by the Senate Leadership Fund to push for Republican victories in key states. N.C. Republican Ted Budd got the third most support from the group, behind Pennsylvania’s Mehmet Oz ($3.9 million) and Georgia’s Herschel Walker ($3.6 million). The other Republican Senate campaigns getting part of the spending are in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Nevada.


North Carolina’s race between Republican Ted Budd and Democrat Cheri Beasley is a dead heat at this point, with a Cygnal poll showing the candidates tied at 42% each. A poll from East Carolina University taken more recently, Sept. 7-10, shows Budd up over Beasley 49% to 46%. The results show that the race is tightening. Just 4% of respondents are now undecided. Back in May, the same ECU polling group showed Budd leading Beasley by eight percentage points, with 12% undecided.


Republicans, including Budd, are keeping their message focused on historically high inflation and federal spending, fuel prices, and dropping wages, while Democrats have found a spark among their base in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Democrats hope it will draw North Carolina’s unaffiliated voters over to the left.


The Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC spent $700,000 dollars in August attacking Budd in ads that ran in the Charlotte market claiming that he wants to completely ban abortion with no exceptions, calling him “extreme.” On Wednesday, Budd signed on as one of 84 co-sponsors of the U.S. House version of a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks gestation, with exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger.


The Senate Leadership Fund’s spending to help Ted Budd is a mix of online ads, television, and radio, all featuring messages opposed to Cheri Beasley. The support comes as Beasley spent the summer running ads across the state, largely funded by her campaign money, not independent expenditures. Beasley has not enjoyed the level of national Democrat support that Cal Cunningham had in his race against Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in 2020. At this point in the 2020 election cycle, outside independent expenditures were three times more than that spent so far for Budd, and more than 10 times that spent so far for Beasley.


“Just like I think the Republicans have made a strategic decision to lie low and hope the tide helps, I think the Democrats strategic decision nationally has been, defend the seats we have before expanding out,” said Cooper. “Whether that is smart or not remains to be seen, but it’s pretty clear that they are hoping to maintain a narrow lead, and they think the best way to do that is simply to hold onto what they have.”


Budd has faced criticism recently from Democrats, and some Republicans, for focusing his campaign on small groups and appearances over large rallies and debates. However, his campaign announced Tuesday that a Budd rally with former President Donald Trump is scheduled in two weeks at the Areo Center in Wilmington.


“President Donald Trump’s commitment to protecting and promoting American jobs grew our economy and created more and better opportunities for all Americans,” said Budd in the announcement. “President Trump carried North Carolina twice and Amy Kate and I are thrilled he’s heading back to our great state to get folks fired up as our campaign accelerates into the final stretch. And, in the spirit of bipartisanship, we would also welcome Joe Biden to come campaign early and often for Cheri Beasley and personally, and publicly, thank her for supporting his disastrous economic policies.”


Independent expenditures coming in to the Budd v. Beasley race are likely to accelerate over the next eight weeks if polls remain tight and both sides gear up campaigns to get their voters to the polls.


“It’s as critical as any state in the country,” said Cooper. “It says that North Carolina remains as purple as they come, is the definition of a battleground state and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

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