RALEIGH, N.C. – In competitive races across the U.S., Republican candidates are distancing themselves from their party’s most controversial policies and people — namely, abortion and former President Donald Trump — as Election Day approaches.
Not Ted Budd.
The North Carolina GOP Senate nominee is leaning into support for abortion restrictions and amity with the former Republican president as Democrats fight for an elusive victory in the Southern swing state.
Democratic optimism remains tempered given the state’s recent red tilt, but Democratic officials believe Budd, a low-profile congressman who emerged as the GOP’s Senate nominee largely because of Trump’s backing, gives them a real chance at flipping a seat — and holding the balance of power in Washington — this fall.
Disregarding his critics, Budd is set to appear alongside Trump on Friday night at a rally in Wilmington. The Budd campaign was eager to welcome Trump when the former president’s team called, according to adviser Jonathan Felts.
“Trump won North Carolina twice, and an in-person rally is helpful,” Felts said, suggesting Trump would help drive turnout, especially “with unaffiliated and/or undecided voters concerned about the economy.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“The more Trump emerges, the more Trump is in the news, the better for Democrats,” said David Holian, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Indeed, Trump remains overwhelmingly popular with Republican voters but is less appealing to the moderates and independents who often decide swing-state elections. Trump’s national favorable ratings have been roughly even with, or worse than, President Joe Biden’s in recent weeks.
Still, some North Carolina Democrats are far from confident in a state where they have suffered painful losses in recent years.
Democratic skepticism comes despite the apparent strength of their Senate nominee, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who has a decided fundraising advantage, a record of outperforming other Democrats in statewide elections and a moderate message. She would be the state’s first Black senator if elected.
Yet Beasley is also running against negative perceptions of her party.
Trump’s rise has fueled a growing sense among some voters in North Carolina, along with those in many other states, that the national Democratic Party has lost touch with the daily struggles of the working class and similar voting blocs. The Democratic-controlled Congress’ focus on climate change, for example, hasn’t helped inspire voters like Talmage Layton, a 74-year-old farmer from Durham.
Layton said he doesn’t know whether a North Carolina Democrat can make a difference on Capitol Hill in lowering gas prices or pushing back against climate change policies that other Democrats have embraced.
“That’s not anything against Cheri Beasley,” Layton said after a recent meeting with Beasley. “I’m a registered Democrat, and I would have no problem voting for a Democrat. But they’ve got to think about the little guy here.”
Not long ago, it looked as if the Democratic Party was poised to take over North Carolina politics.
In 2008, Obama carried the state, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1976, and Democrat Kay Hagan upset GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Political experts predicted the Democratic Party would step to dominance as a result of increasing urbanization and out-of-state liberals moving in for tech jobs in the Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte regions.
But Republicans took over the state legislature for the first time in over 140 years following the 2010 election and retained it thanks to support from exurban and rural voters and favorably drawn districts. A decade later, Trump became a two-time North Carolina winner, though he won the 2020 election by just 1 percentage point.
While Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper managed to win reelection in 2020, Beasley was one of the party’s casualties. She lost a bid…