Republican Congressman Ted Budd won North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, defeating Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Budd was leading Beasley 50.75 to 47.04%, with nearly all precincts reporting.
“You know, our friends in the national media thought they had this state all figured out,” Budd said to supporters during his victory speech in Winston-Salem. “They used terms to describe North Carolina this year as ‘sleepy,’ ‘quiet,’ ‘under the radar.’ Well, I tell you that this so-called sleepy race, I think we sounded a loud and clear message in Washington, D.C. tonight.”
Budd will replace outgoing Senator Richard Burr, who did not run for reelection.
Throughout the race, polls showed Budd with a small lead or tied with Beasley. But in the last three weeks of the campaign, polls began to show Budd pulling away. That was consistent with national polls that showed other GOP candidates do better as the campaign came to a close.
Budd told supporters that “you’ve had enough of policies that make your lives worse. And you’re sick of paying too much at the grocery store and at the gas pump. You’re tired of feeling unsafe when you walk the streets. You’re tired of being attacked just because you want to know what your kids are being taught at school.”
Democrats have not won a U.S. Senate race in North Carolina since Kay Hagan’s victory in 2008, the same year Barack Obama narrowly carried the state. They have lost the last four Senate races.
“A few minutes ago, I called Senator-elect Budd to congratulate him,” Beasley said in her concession speech in Raleigh as many in the crowd booed. “And I offered him my support and encouraged him to stand in the tradition of our state to be an independent leader that puts North Carolina first, and I hope he will.”
One theme in the race was the Beasley campaign’s struggle to get national Democratic groups to invest in her candidacy.
Former President Barack Obama, for instance, made several campaign appearances for other Democratic candidates in key races. While he produced a digital ad for Beasley, he did not come to North Carolina and make an in-person appearance.
And while Beasley raised more money than Budd, national Republicans spent far more than Democratic groups, such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Republicans painted Beasley as soft on crime, mining through her judicial record to find instances in which they said she wrongly sided with criminal defendants.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade this summer gave Beasley’s campaign a boost, though it wasn’t enough. Abortion became a less dominant news story in the fall, as voters said they were mostly concerned about the price of gas and groceries.
Beasley prevailed in the Democratic primary against Mecklenburg state Sen. Jeff Jackson, who pivoted to win a seat in the U.S. House. National and state Democrats rallied around Beasley’s campaign, hoping that her lengthy resume – and that she is a Black woman – would help them win the state.
In Georgia, Stacey Abrams was widely credited with mobilizing Black voters to flip the state from red to blue in 2020, a success Democrats hoped to replicate in North Carolina.
But Beasley struggled to engage Black voters in North Carolina. Their share of the early vote was down from 2018 and 2020.
Budd won the Republican primary in May due to his endorsement from former President Trump. But during the general election, Budd only appeared with the former president once, at a rally in Wilmington in late September.