Budd vs. Beasley in November?

North Carolina candidates for US Senate Ted Budd (left, Republican) and Cheri Beasley (right, Democrat)

North Carolina candidates for US Senate Ted Budd (left, Republican) and Cheri Beasley (right, Democrat)

Whenever there is a large number of candidates vying for the same office, political pundits like to refer to it as a “crowded field”, which often implies that those candidates are all bunched up in the polls. Not so with North Carolina’s race for U.S. Senate, where a dozen or more hopefuls are entered in each of the major party primaries, and the front-runners have commanding leads.

With less than a week to go before the polls open, former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley enjoys an insurmountable lead over all contenders. According to a WRAL-TV poll from April 14, Beasley has a 33-point advantage over her nearest competitor. Translation? Barring any last minute, self-inflicted wound (which I refer to as “Pulling a Cal Cunningham”), Judge Beasley will be the Democratic nominee.

Over on the GOP side, Congressman Ted Budd enjoys a double-digit lead over former Governor Pat McCrory, with former Congressman Mark Walker trailing way behind. But unlike the Democratic primary, which seems all over but the shouting, the Republican contest could offer some last-minute surprises. To understand why, it might be helpful to recap the politics and polls that got us to this point.

Prior to serving as Governor, McCrory was a seven-term mayor of Charlotte who was known for his ability to bring disparate groups together to achieve common goals. Hoping to take his moderate approach to Raleigh, McCrory was blindsided by his own party on more than one occasion, the last time being when he tried to stop them from passing HB2. Ultimately McCrory signed off on the so-called “Bathroom Bill”, but only as a stop-gap measure until the matter could be properly adjudicated. Nevertheless, he became the first Governor in modern history to be thrown under the bus by both parties at the same time over the same issue.

Fast forward to 2021 when early polls showed McCrory with a huge lead over Budd and Walker. His lead narrowed by January when a Civitas poll put him just 5 points ahead of Budd. Then in March, a Vitales poll showed Budd erasing McCrory’s lead, and overtaking him by 32% to 29%. Budd’s surge was due largely to Donald Trump’s endorsement, and his momentum continued into the first week in April, when an Emerson College poll put Budd at 36% and McCrory at 22%. Meanwhile, Walker who dropped out of, then re-entered the race, saw his numbers dwindle across all polls. Walker went from 12% to 9%, and is now polling around 7%. On April 14, WRAL released its latest poll, showing Budd dropping to 33% and McCrory rising a point to 23%.

McCrory’s television ads reflect his desperation, as he tries to convince voters that he is more conservative than Budd or Walker. It’s an ironic twist, considering that as a moderate he tried to stop HB2, stabilized and vastly improved the state’s economy, and built up a much-needed rainy-day fund that came in handy during Hurricane Matthew. Still, there’s no indication that Pat is getting a significant bump from his TV ads. Budd, meanwhile, continues to grow his war chest and avoid debates with McCrory and Walker. The question is, will Budd’s lead hold, and is it enough to win the primary next week and avoid a run-off.

Here in North Carolina, the threshold for winning outright is 30% plus one vote. Clearly, Budd currently meets that threshold, but the fly in the ointment may be a large block of voters that no one in the media is talking about. Right now, about 35% of likely Republican voters are undecided. If an overwhelming majority of them should cast their ballots for McCrory and Walker, then Budd could fall under the 30% threshold, and that would trigger a two-man run-off next month between Budd and McCrory. Here’s where it gets crazy. Sources tell me there is bad blood between Budd and Walker. Meanwhile, Walker and McCrory have been playing nice, and showing up for joint appearances sans Budd. That tells me Walker is likely to throw his support behind McCrory in a run-off, and that could give McCrory just the edge he needs to defeat Budd.

As of the time this article is being posted, the primary is only six days away, and that’s plenty of time for any number of upsets and permutations to occur. Absent that, Judge Beasley and Ted Budd are headed for a showdown on November 8.


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