Trump Endorsement Matters in North Carolina Senate Primary

By Jim Ellis

Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement changes the face of the race for Senate in North Carolina.

June 16, 2021 — North Carolina US Rep. Ted Budd’s (R-Advance) Senate campaign released an internal Meeting Street Insights poll (June 9-10; 500 likely North Carolina Republican primary voters, live interview) Monday that finds former President Donald Trump’s endorsement completely changes the 2022 statewide Republican primary.

Rep. Budd is challenging former Gov. Pat McCrory and ex-US Rep. Mark Walker for the GOP nomination succeeding Sen. Richard Burr (R) who is not seeking re-election to a fourth term.

According to Meeting Streets, former Gov. McCrory would lead the field, as other polls have shown, by a wide margin. On the first ballot test, McCrory scores 45 percent preference as opposed to 19 perecent for Rep. Budd, while 12 percent choose ex-representative Walker.

The picture drastically changes, however, when the pollsters ask if the respondent is aware that former President Trump has endorsed Rep. Budd. Only 20 percent of the sampling universe expressed knowledge of this development. On what the pollster terms the “educated” ballot test, meaning the respondent is told that Trump has, in fact, endorsed Rep. Budd, we see the drastic transformation.

With the Trump endorsement becoming known, Rep. Budd soars to the lead with 46 percent support, while McCrory drops to 27 percent, and ex-Rep. Walker falls to eight percent.

McCrory’s campaign fielded a Public Opinion Strategies survey in early April (April 6-8; 500 likely North Carolina Republican primary voters, live interview) and found the former governor leading 48-13-9 percent over Walker and Budd, respectively.

This was followed later in the month by a Spry Strategies study (April 21-24; 700 likely Republican North Carolina primary voters; combination live interview and interactive voice response system) that found a 40-11-5 percent split, again with Rep. Budd trailing his two opponents.

Irrespective of the Trump factor, we see Rep. Budd already gaining early strength – moving from single digits in previous surveys to at least 19 percent in the Meeting Street poll – which suggests this Republican primary will be anything but a slam dunk for the state’s former governor.

The Meeting Street study also finds all three GOP contenders with strong favorability ratings among the Republican poll respondents who know enough about them to form an opinion. McCrory posts a 58:14 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio, Rep. Budd, 28:4 percent, and Mr. Walker, 23:3 percent.

McCrory, who had served 14 years as mayor of Charlotte before running for governor, was defeated for re-election in 2016 despite President Trump carrying the state in the same election. Gov. McCrory was besieged by the infamous “bathroom bill” legislation among other things that caused him to drop the election to the state’s current Democratic governor, and then-attorney general, Roy Cooper. The margin of McCrory’s defeat was just over 10,000 votes of more than 4.7 million ballots cast, or just slightly over two-tenths of one percent.

Ex-Rep. Walker served three terms in the House before the North Carolina state Supreme Court, in a late-decade redistricting ruling, changed his Greensboro seat from a safe Republican domain into one that a Democrat couldn’t lose. Upon the new map being enacted, Rep. Walker chose to retire from the House and immediately after the 2020 election formally declared his US Senate candidacy.

On the Democratic side in this always competitive general election state are 10 announced candidates, but the race already appears to be coming down to a pair of principal contenders. They are former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who also lost her position in a close statewide result, and state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Charlotte).

Count on the North Carolina open seat race to become a highly competitive national campaign, especially since the Senate majority balance hangs in abeyance with every contested 2022 election. Now, however, it appears both Tar Heel State nomination campaigns will be equally spirited.

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