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Beasley, Budd win as NC voters pare down primary candidates

Beasley_Budd composite.png
Ben McKeown, Chris Seward
Composite photo of Democratic North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley and Republican. candidate Ted Budd after both easily clinched primary victories Tuesday night.

Updated at 8:48 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Ted Budd defeated 13 Republican primary competitors on Tuesday night, comfortably claiming the nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat while all but ending the political career of a prominent North Carolina conservative.

Budd will face former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who had entered Tuesday as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, which 11 people sought. Their election victories set up a fall match-up that should again test former President Donald Trump's influence in North Carolina.

Budd won the primary over former Gov. Pat McCrory and state Rep. Mark Walker. Current GOP U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is retiring.

Budd, a third term congressman from Davie County, was initially viewed as a long-shot for the nomination. But that changed in June of 2021 when former President Donald Trump offered a surprising endorsement at a North Carolina rally.

"When President Trump endorsed me last June he said, 'Ted I'm endorsing you because you never wavered on America First policies'," Budd said during his victory speech in Davie County Tuesday night. "Cheri Beasley would be nothing more than a rubber stamp for everything that is wrong with Joe Biden's woke and broke policies. So we need to put the breaks on this agenda for the sake of hard-working North Carolinians. And that is exactly what I'm going to do."

Kate Medley
File photo of former President Donald Trump campaigning for Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd on Saturday, April 9, 2022 to a crowd of hundreds in Selma, North Carolina.

Polling that had previously shown McCrory as the frontrunner quickly began to shift, and in the weeks that followed, McCrory appeared to being losing projected support. Meanwhile, the conservative Super PAC Club for Growth pumped more than $15 million into efforts to secure the nomination for Budd.

McCrory, a former seven-term mayor of Charlotte who ascended to the governorship from 2013 to 2017, lost his gubernatorial re-election bid by fewer than 11,000 votes. This defeat marks his second loss in a statewide campaign since serving as the state's executive, and many political insiders say his viability as a candidate has passed.

McCrory and Walker criticized Budd for failing to participate in televised debates and accused the super PAC of trying to buy an election for Budd.

McCrory, a moderate within the state GOP, signed laws while governor that cut taxes and extended abortion waiting periods to 72 hours. He's best known nationally for signing a "bathroom bill" that restricted access for transgender people in 2016 and cost the state billions.

The last time North Carolina had an open U.S. Senate seat was 20 years ago, when Republican Jesse Helms retired. That 2002 primary generated turnout of more than 21%.

Beasley's path to the nomination widened after two rivals left the race last fall. Beasley, who would be the first Black senator elected from North Carolina, has consistently been the largest fundraiser in both primary fields.

The Budd-Beasley matchup is potentially noteworthy on a couple of fronts. In addition to this being an open seat for the first time in two decades, it may very well set another record as the most expensive U.S. Senate race in the country's history. North Carolina has been home to what was at the time, in 2014, the most costly U.S. Senate race ever and then again in 2020.

Beasley is also seeking to become only the third Black woman to ever earn election to the U.S. Senate joining Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

July runoffs are possible if first-place candidates don't get over 30% of the vote.

Voters also picked nominees Tuesday for scores of county positions. Many towns and cities also held elections postponed last year because of redistricting delays.

WUNC's Elizabeth Baier contributed to this report.

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