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Democrats signal they plan to fight for NC Senate seat

State not initially on party super PAC's airtime reservation list

A Democratic super PAC is defending North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley from attacks she is soft on crime.
A Democratic super PAC is defending North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley from attacks she is soft on crime. (Eamon Queeney/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Democrats aren’t giving up on North Carolina’s open Senate seat just yet.

After former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley easily won the Democratic Senate primary last week, an outside group said it would begin spending to support her race against Rep. Ted Budd, the GOP nominee. The effort suggests Democrats see a path to flipping the seat in their bid to grow their majority later this year, after initially leaving North Carolina off the list of states where airtime for fall campaign ads was being reserved. 

Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, announced a seven-figure ad buy to support Beasley on Monday. The ad pushes back on early Republican attacks, noting that several sheriffs criticized a National Republican Senatorial Committee ad released earlier this month that sought to paint Beasley as soft on crime. It highlights a death sentence penalty she gave to a defendant who killed a child. 

“Since Ted Budd has virtually no accomplishments to run on, his extremist right-wing allies are launching negative attacks against Judge Cheri Beasley to mislead voters and distract from his terrible record,” JB Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC, said in a statement. 

He said Beasley “spent nearly two decades in public service upholding the rule of law and keeping North Carolina communities safe.”

Budd’s campaign called the SMP ad “hyper-defensive and purely reactive” in a release sent to reporters. 

Republicans start the race with a slight edge, which could be more significant this year than in the past because of the national environment, according to Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

Budd should be considered the favorite in the race, but is vulnerable because of his close ties to former President Donald Trump, Greene said.

“I don’t want to say it would be crazy for the Democrats not to invest in this race, but unless it had been a really poor candidate who was the Democratic nominee, which is clearly not the case, it’s shaping up to be a competitive race,” he said.

Crime could continue to be a salient issue in the race, particularly as violent crime rates rise. Republicans would likely be using that issue against any Democratic candidate, but Beasley’s status as a Black woman and history as a state Supreme Court judge offers several cases to “cherry pick,” he said.

“If Cheri Beasley was a white man, I still think you would probably get a very similar campaign against that person,” he said. “I do wonder if it might not have more resonance because she’s a Black woman and people might be, because of whatever latent stereotypes, more inclined to see someone like that as soft on crime.”

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Tilt Republican.

An East Carolina University poll released Monday and taken May 19 and 20 found Budd leading Beasley 47 percent to 39 percent among registered voters, with another 12 percent undecided. 

Democrats haven’t won a Senate seat in North Carolina since 2008, when former Sen. Kay Hagan was elected. Last cycle, Cal Cunningham lost to Sen. Thom Tillis after the Democrat admitted to having an affair. The candidates and outside groups spent almost $300 million — including nearly $36 million by Senate Majority PAC — on that race, according to the nonpartisan campaign finance site OpenSecrets.

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