“The number of independents is ever-shrinking,” said Doug Heye, a Washington-based Republican operative originally from North Carolina. “Those folks are not going to decide until the last four weeks or so. So every poll is going to have it within the margin of error or close enough.”
Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College, said Budd has been “leaning on the fundamentals.”
“Registered Republicans will have a higher turnout rate than Democrats, the midterm environment is generally against the President’s party,” Bitzer told CNN. “And I think he is counting on those fundamentals to stay at work until November 8.”
‘Voters don’t think judges are politicians’
Central to Beasley’s campaign is her title: Judge.
“As judges, our job is not about politics. It’s about standing up for what’s right,” the judges say in the spot.
“Voters don’t think judges are politicians,” said Morgan Jackson, a longtime Democratic strategist in North Carolina. “And what Beasley has been able to do on her campaign and her paid ads is say, ‘I have spent my career looking unbiased at an issue and making a decision based on law.’ That is something voters are craving in this environment of polarization.”
After graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1991, Beasley spent a few years as a public defender in Cumberland County, North Carolina, before working her way up the judicial ladder as a district court judge in the county.
Republicans are hopeful that this strategy — coupled with concerns about all-Democratic control of Washington — could sink Beasley, even if she is running a strong campaign.
“Here’s the problem for her, and this is the problem for Democrats across the board: Suburban-based unaffiliated voters are split between the economy and between the social issues around abortion,” said Paul Shumaker, a veteran Republican strategist in North Carolina. “The voters Democrats have a turnout problem with are minorities and young people, who are most affected by inflation.”
Beasley’s campaign has argued that, as a history-making candidate, she is uniquely positioned to turn out Black voters across the state. A key aspect to this operation has been Beasley’s focus on turning out rural Black voters, many of whom are more likely to vote in presidential cycles.
In a statement to CNN, Beasley’s campaign said she was focused on protecting the rights of “all North Carolinians, in every part of the state, of every political party.” The campaign, along with the Democratic coordinated campaign in the state, has prioritized Black outreach through churches, historically Black colleges and universities, and the “Divine Nine” historically Black sororities and fraternities.
So far, the race has flown under the national radar, something that concerns Democrats.
The operative added: “Budd’s calculation is I can ride this out and stay quiet.”
‘Sometimes boring and reliable is the way to win’
In Budd, North Carolina may have the closest candidate to a generic Republican.
Budd’s low-key approach to his Senate bid is seen as an asset in a large and politically split state like North Carolina.
“Sometimes boring and reliable is the way to win,” said a person close to the campaign.
It’s also something of a necessity for Budd, who has raised far less money than Beasley — the Democrat had raised about $16 million through June 30, compared with around $6.3 million for Budd. That limited his campaign’s presence on the TV airwaves, a space Beasley dominated through much of the summer.
Budd has since received help from outside groups, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reserved $27.6 million in TV ads between Labor Day and Election Day.
In addition to these well-funded pitches to undecided voters, Budd will need to run up the numbers with the Republican base. He’ll have help in that effort when Trump arrives Friday in Wilmington for a rally with him and a slate of other Republican candidates in the state.
But Trump’s visit is hardly without risk for Budd. Democrats hope that the former President injecting himself further into the race will remind swing voters of the 2020 election and anger over the political climate that followed. And Trump’s return to North Carolina will help Democrats highlight Budd’s votes against certifying certain 2020 presidential election results.
Republicans watching the race told CNN that Budd’s recent co-sponsorship of a 15-week abortion ban, which is less unpopular than a total ban, can help him appear less extreme on abortion — or, at the very least, nullify the Democratic attacks. But it’s a delicate act, they admit.
“How Republicans manage that one issue alone determines whether they have a good year,” said Shumaker.