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Politics

NC TV stations pull controversial GOP-funded ads targeting Democrat Cheri Beasley

Democratic North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley
Ben McKeown
/
AP
Democratic North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks at an election night event hosted by the North Carolina Democratic Party after winning her primary race in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

A closely watched U.S. Senate race in North Carolina is getting off to a combative start.

Local television stations and major media markets have recently pulled an attack ad aimed at the Democratic candidate, Cheri Beasley.

A lawyer with the powerful Democrat-aligned Elias Law Group wrote a letter to TV station managers in Raleigh and Charlotte urging them to pull the ads, saying they're false and misleading. The letter, penned by Courtney Weisman, reads in part, "The (National Republican Senatorial Committee) should not be permitted to manipulate Ms. Beasley’s record to serve their false narrative on your watch."

The stations complied with the request. In all, seven TV stations — WRAL, WRAZ, CBS17, WJZY, WMYT, WSOC and WXAN — said they had pulled the ad or paused airing it, according to emails obtained by WUNC.

"Washington Republicans have been caught lying about Cheri Beasley's record and their false attack was rightfully taken off television," Beasley campaign spokesperson Dory MacMillan said. "Voters know Cheri worked with law enforcement to hold violent offenders accountable."

Beasley has already made history as the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court from 2019 to 2020. But Republicans are using Beasley's judicial record against her, much as they did during confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

An unidentified speaker in the ad says, in part: "Our children are society's most vulnerable, and Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has failed them. A man seeking sex with a boy online – she tossed the conviction."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee placed that ad in North Carolina's major media markets, seeking to boost the efforts of the GOP nominee, Congressman Ted Budd.

Democrats argue the ad distorts their candidate's record. The case involved a man caught by an undercover officer in a 2015 sting targeting online predators, and the defendant was sentenced to a maximum 21 months, which he served. On appeal, Beasley issued a majority opinion that sent the case back to trial court so the jury could be instructed on the issue of entrapment.

A representative for WSOC and WAXN – two Cox Media Group TV stations in Charlotte and Kannapolis, respectively – wrote in a statement to CBS: "The defendant was not set free by the ruling as the ad claims. CMG will not run the ad when it contains a false statement on material issue. This ad has been removed from airing."

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Chris Hartline stood by the removed ad and, in a tweet, insisted every word of it was true.

"Every word of the ad is true and no one knows that more than the families of the victims of violent criminals that you let off," Hartline wrote in response to Beasley. "And we're going to keep reminding the voters of North Carolina of that every single day."

Michael Bitzer is a political science professor at Catawba College. He says the negative ad is not that surprising.

"It's just that it came so early," Bitzer said. "Literally right after the primary election, and is trying to set the tone for what will likely be a very expensive and very negative U.S. Senate race."

Budd is a Donald Trump endorsee seen as key to retaining the GOP's hold on a seat currently occupied by third-term Republican Senator Richard Burr, who's retiring. Bitzer says an open-seat election in a crucial battleground state will make for a very intense partisan battle fueled by outside groups.

"And the likelihood is the majority of that special interest outside money will be geared towards attacking one candidate over the other," Bitzer said.

In other words, this is just the opening salvo in a political battle likely to feature attacks from both sides.

WUNC Digital Producer Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.

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