September 7, 2022

Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) last week found Cheri Beasley one point ahead of Trump-endorsed Congressman Ted "Monster Truck" Budd in the contest to replace North Carolina's retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

PPP Polling finds:

In North Carolina Beasley is at 42% to 41% for Budd. The race is close despite Beasley having a net favorability rating 16 points better than Budd’s. Beasley is at +10 (40/30) while Budd is at -6 (34/40).

There’s a particularly large gap when it comes to how much enthusiasm each of their party bases has for them. While Beasley is at 80/3 with Biden voters, Budd is at only 54/19 with Trump voters. North Carolina Senate races in recent years have broken toward the GOP at the end because of superior turnout on their side- it will be interesting to see if Democrats liking Beasley so much more than Republicans like Budd will bring any change to that trend this year.

A mid-August Civitas poll from the conservative John Locke Foundation showed the race a dead heat. Each candidate draws 42.3 percent with 12. 6 percent undecided:

“When you go from the last Civitas poll to this Civitas poll, Ted Budd’s lead is gone,” said Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation. “I think it certainly points to a red wave being much less of a wave than previous polls have.”

With Civitas showing the race tied, Beasley could actually have more of an edge than PPP's polling indicates.

Beasley is coming into her own. By now, it is legend among North Carolina Democrats that Beasley lost her 2020 reelection to the state Supreme Court by just 401 votes out of 5.5 million cast. Without the COVID-19 pandemic, she might be managing the state's court system still, as well as presiding over the state's highest court as chief justice.

Beasley won statewide twice (2008, 2014) as a nonpartisan candidate for the Court of Appeals before being appointed Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2019. But each time she ran down-ticket on the coattails of the top-of-ticket candidate. In 2022, she is the top-of-ticket candidate. Down-ballot candidates are counting on riding her coattails.

Judicial candidates typically run low-profile races and avoid talking stands on issues. They campaign in supporters' living rooms and raise modest sums for campaigning. It is unseemly to be seen raising large sums as a judge.

Running statewide as a partisan candidate is a different game. It required that Beasley develop a different set of skills. There was a learning curve and Beasley climbed it. Her early campaign ads felt stilted and dated. Because a downside of accepting early money from national groups such as Emily's List is that the money comes with strings: you also take their campaign consultants.

The U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision stripping abortion rights in late June, however, is in Beasley's wheelhouse and helped her hit her stride. Her recent TV appearances are more confident. She's freer to take positions on issues.

Recent campaign ads and social media posts reveal a more relaxed, upbeat, and authentic Beasley more willing to take on Budd.

Beasley's June FEC filing shows her leading Budd handily both in fundraising and cash on hand.

Budd, however, will have reams of dark money backing his race to hold the Republican seat vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Burr. Those experienced enough to know are well aware that fundraising alone is no guarantee of winning an election. Budd can also expect support from Donald Trump, if by the time early voting begins on October 20 Budd still wants it.

Larry Sabato still ranks the 2022 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina "Lean R." Cook's Political ranks the race "Lean R" as well. For now.

I was an early Beasley supporter for practical reasons as well as for her experience not just as a jurist but as head of the state's court system. Beasley would be running in what until the Trump era is typically a low-turnout midterm election. Having Beasley, a strong, accomplished Black woman atop the ticket in an off-year could mobilize Black women voters across the state the way they reinvigorated Joe Biden's primary campaign in South Carolina in 2020.

"North Carolina Senate races in recent years have broken toward the GOP at the end," PPP reminds us. Beasley will need to build a bigger lead between now and the start of voting.

Help her build it, won't you? You can do that here.

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