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5 takeaways from North Carolina’s primary election

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Ted Budd, of North Carolina, points to the crowd after he takes the stage before former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Selma, N.C.
Chris Seward
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Ted Budd, of North Carolina, points to the crowd after he takes the stage before former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Selma, N.C.

Ted Budd is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, incumbent freshman congressman Madison Cawthorn was defeated, Gov. Roy Cooper got his way, turnout was high, and former President Donald Trump had another night of mixed results.

A day after the midterms, we review what just happened, explore why, and turn our attention to what might come next.

1. Budd wins GOP Senate nomination handily

As expected, Ted Budd — a gun shop owner and a congressman from the 13th District in his third term — he won this thing. What was maybe a little bit surprising is that he won it going away.

Now as a little bit of a contextual reminder, a year ago, Pat McCrory — the former Republican governor — was seen as the early front runner in the race. Then, in June of 2021, Trump gave what was at the time a surprising endorsement of Budd, and from there Budd ascended in the polls.

McCrory retreated in the polls. And Budd was then boosted some 14 million times over with a lot of money from the conservative super PAC, Club for Growth.

Budd will now take on Cheri Beasley in the general election. She was the presumptive Democratic nominee heading into Tuesday and becomes the first Black woman to ever earn a nomination for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. And she is now going to try to become just the third Black woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate.

2. Davis built a winning campaign in 1st District

State Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, takes the oath of office in the Senate chamber as lawmakers gather for the start of the 2017 Legislative session at the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Jan. 11, 2017. U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has endorsed state Sen. Davis to become his successor in North Carolina's 1st Congressional District. The retiring congressman gave Davis on Monday, April 25, 2022 his seal of approval as the May 17 Democratic primary approaches. Three other Democrats are running for the nomination, including former state Sen. Erica Smith. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has endorsed state Sen. Davis to become his successor in North Carolina's 1st Congressional District. (FILE: 2017)

The 1st District is a large northeastern swath of the state. This is a district that has been served by a Black representative going back to 1993.

Don Davis, a sitting state senator from Pitt County, defeated Erika Smith in this primary.

There were other Democratic candidates but those were the leading two and Davis is just — quite frankly — somebody who has had his eye on this district for a long time. He built a winning campaign here, with the endorsement of G.K. Butterfield, the outgoing congressman.

It’s worth noting here that Davis was the more moderate of those two Democrats. Smith was the Elizabeth Warren-backed candidate.

Davis will now take on Sandy Smith, the Republican nominee, in the general.

3. Some in GOP disappointed by Smith win

Sandy Smith is an avowed Trump and MAGA supporter, somebody who was in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.

And some Republicans are disappointed in her nomination because they think that if there was a chance for Republicans to take this seat - in what many smart political scientists and political people believe will be a good year for Republicans — Sandy Smith is the kind of candidate that is not going to appeal to very many unaffiliated, independent, middle-of-the-road voters.

4. District 4 a measure for how left NC can go

From left to right, the candidates in the Democratic Primary for the 4th District: Valerie Foushee, Clay Aiken and Nida Allam.
Campaign Photos
WUNC Composite
From left to right, the top candidates in the Democratic Primary for the 4th District were: Valerie Foushee, Clay Aiken and Nida Allam.

This was a Democratic primary that, to some extent, was a litmus test of how far left North Carolina voters are willing to go. What kind of candidate can get elected here?

There was Clay Aiken, the former congressional candidate and also a former "American Idol" contestant. He was defeated in this race and finished third.

Nida Allam is a local elected official in Durham under the age of 30, a Muslim candidate, and there was a lot of energy and a lot of support around her. But she was seen as the most left and most progressive of the candidates. She ultimately finished second.

The winner of this 4th District primary on the Democratic side is Valerie Foushee — a well-known, longtime figure in state and local politics. She was a State House member then appointed to a State Senate seat. As is the case with many of these congressional races, Foushee is ostensibly the congressperson-elect coming out of the primary. And, just as a reminder, that's because these districts are so gerrymandered. This district — which includes Durham and Chapel Hill — is a deeply blue constituency.

5. Mistakes catch-up with Cawthorn

Madison Cawthorn was defeated Tuesday night following a series of scandals and mishaps, a series of attacks from within his own party, from Democrats within the district who don't want to see this young man returned to Congress.

Cawthorn crossed a line and went too far. What is less clear is exactly when or where he crossed that line, whether it was him mentioning these alleged cocaine-filled orgies on Capitol Hill that everyone else has said don't exist. Or if it was him calling Vladimir Zelensky — the President of Ukraine — a thug. But he lost. He lost to Chuck Edwards, a Republican state senator.

Cawthorn is an anomaly. Just a totally unique figure in American politics.

He rose quickly. He had a story of a second chance; this person who was injured very badly in a car accident. Cawthorn once said he was most interested in having lunch with Nancy Pelosi — this was after he was the Congressman-elect. And within two years, he went from that to saying that she was an alcoholic. And reporters on Capitol Hill are quick to point out Nancy Pelosi doesn't drink. So, he just did this just bizarre turn.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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