Raleigh, North Carolina
Congressman Ted Budd might soon be the winner of the quietest swing state Senate race in the country. When North Carolina senator Richard Burr announced he would not seek re-election in this year's midterms, Democrats saw the seat as a potential pick-up to expand their Senate majority. Instead, Budd is polling ahead of his opponent, former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley, by more than six points.

Budd closed out his campaign Monday night with an intimate rally at GOP headquarters in Raleigh. It was clear that he had worked long and...

Raleigh, North Carolina

Congressman Ted Budd might soon be the winner of the quietest swing state Senate race in the country. When North Carolina senator Richard Burr announced he would not seek re-election in this year’s midterms, Democrats saw the seat as a potential pick-up to expand their Senate majority. Instead, Budd is polling ahead of his opponent, former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley, by more than six points.

Budd closed out his campaign Monday night with an intimate rally at GOP headquarters in Raleigh. It was clear that he had worked long and hard on the trail — he appeared to have dropped a significant amount of weight since his announcement and was on the verge of losing his voice. Budd spoke for just over a minute, thanking his supporters and reminding everyone to vote on Tuesday.

U.S. Senate nominee Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) speaks at a campaign rally at the North Carolina Republican Party Headquarters

Representative Ted Budd speaks at a campaign rally at the North Carolina Republican Party Headquarters (Amber Athey/The Spectator)

After the short rally, I asked Budd several questions, including what should be on the Republican agenda if they take the Senate majority. He told me that he mostly sees the Senate operating as a “brake pedal” for the Biden administration.

“There’s a lot of hard work ahead — far beyond what a campaign has to it. So the issues are what we’ve been talking about in the campaign, and that’s inflation. We’ve got to do things that rein in inflation, that lower crime and that give parents a say back in their kids education. But the main thing is, I look at it as a brake pedal and a gas pedal, and we’ve got to press on the brakes to hold Joe Biden accountable and to stop what he’s doing to hurt our country,” Budd explained.

The North Carolina race has garnered shockingly little national attention, unlike the Senate matchups in Ohio, Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania. It’s been more akin to Florida senator Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign against Representative Val Demings, where victory seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Democrats have not won a Senate race in North Carolina since 2008.

Sources close to the Budd campaign tell me that despite its blustering, the Democratic Party never really believed they had a shot and were not thrilled to have Beasley as their candidate. She’s not a particularly gifted politician and her voting record on the Supreme Court opened her up to attacks for being soft on crime, which is less than ideal in an election cycle where crime is a top five issue for voters.

“She’s defended cop killers. She’s thrown out indictments for sex offenders. And she’s said that it’s unconstitutional to have trackers for repeat sex offenders,” Budd told me. “So I think there’s a long list of things that she’s running away from, while at the same time, I’m defending and standing up for my record in the US Congress. So I’m very proud of my record.”

Even the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer, the two newspapers with the highest circulations in North Carolina, couched their joint endorsement of Beasley. It was less about Beasley, they noted, and more about how much they disliked Budd.

“Ted Budd has already shown us that he’s willing to be politically prostrate in exchange for Donald Trump’s support,” the editorial boards said. “He’s already shown an unwillingness to condemn what’s poisoning his party and threatening his country. He has shown us what kind of senator and leader he would be… we recommend Cheri Beasley.”

Beasley has overall received little time and attention from Democrats nationally. Her biggest assist came from former president Barack Obama, who endorsed her for a campaign ad but still neglected to host a rally for her in North Carolina. She has tested out several attacks on Budd, including accusing him of being an election denier and an anti-abortion extremist — and claiming he didn’t accomplish anything as a six-year congressman for North Carolinians.

Budd responded Monday, “That’s a tired old talking point that she tried in the debate and it fell flat.”

“We know that the first two years we led our country to 1.4 percent inflation and then the lowest unemployment in recorded history for women, people of color and Hispanics. And we had a declining number of opioid deaths in this country. We were winning on almost every front and we were strong,” he argued. “There was no invasion from Russia into Ukraine. China was under control. North Korea wasn’t launching more missiles. But now everything’s changed under Joe Biden and everything’s changed since 2018 when Nancy Pelosi took the gavel back and then Chuck Schumer became leader in 2020. So, again, that’s all on them. That’s not on us.”

Perhaps Democrats hoped that Budd would make a major mistake on the trail, allowing them to capitalize without a whole lot of work on their end. But Budd has stayed remarkably on message throughout his campaign and is overall an impressive candidate. Prior to winning the the House seat North Carolina’s Thirteenth District in 2016, Budd was a local gun store owner who had never held elected office. He grew up working on his family’s farm and for their janitorial and landscaping businesses. Now, he may soon be a US senator.

Budd demurred when I asked him if he felt confident heading into Election Day.

“This is North Carolina, so you always just work hard and ask people for their vote,” he said, “and that’s what I’d like to ask anybody that’s reading right now in North Carolina. I’d like to ask for their prayers and their support and their vote.”