We’ve had more than a week to process Election Day, though the impacts nationally are still shaking out. While Republicans didn’t see a red wave nationally as many predicted, the party did well in North Carolina.
The Ted Budd-Cheri Beasley Senate race was the most watched here, and one that party officials will be chewing on for the next two years. What made the biggest difference – the candidates? The politics? The spending?
W asked both Jonathan Felts, Budd’s campaign adviser and now transition chair, and Travis Brimm, Beasley’s campaign manager, for thoughts on what to make of it.
Felts was not pleased when we ran a story earlier this year about GOP concerns about the efficacy of his campaign. But he got the last laugh with Budd’s 4-point victory.
At the same time, Brimm was also keen to point out the ways Beasley succeeded – including earning more votes overall than any Democrat running for Senate in a midterm.
Here are their lightly edited responses.
The Assembly: What do you think is the biggest reason Ted Budd won?
Brimm: In a state that Donald Trump won twice, the election between Beasley and Budd was incredibly close, with Cheri earning over 47 percent of the vote, the largest vote share of any Senate Democratic candidate in North Carolina since Senator Kay Hagan.
Budd’s narrow victory looks even weaker when you consider that Republican SuperPACs were forced to invest nearly $80 million on his behalf, the fourth highest amount in the country. And unfortunately, Republican outside groups outspent Democratic outside groups three-to-one – the largest spending differential in the country.
That meant that despite our best efforts – including robust fundraising and running an aggressive, accessible campaign — the threats that Budd poses to our democracy, women’s freedoms, and to families and farmers’ bottom lines were not fully communicated to voters. He should be on notice as he heads to the Senate.
Felts: Ted won because he was the best candidate and spent his time on the campaign trail, and his campaign resources, talking about the issues voters cared about the most. And we invested early in building a strong grassroots foundation. Ted’s discipline is why he spent his time almost always talking about what voters cared about without getting distracted.
When you’re looking at an 18-month campaign, I’ll bet on the disciplined candidate almost every time. That’s why he won. If the armchair quarterbacks want to mistake a disciplined campaign for a boring campaign, that’s their business but I hope they enjoy their exciting second-place finishes.
The Assembly: What does his win mean for the next two years and the 2024 election here in N.C.?
Felts: Ted’s win does give North Carolina Republicans more momentum going into 2024 than North Carolina Democrats. The closest thing to a substantive win for the North Carolina Democrats was avoiding a Republican super-majority in the North Carolina House by one vote.
But in the race that all the national attention was focused on – the US Senate battle – North Carolina Democrats came up short again. When North Carolina Democrats are trying to attract national talent and money into North Carolina in 2024, what are they going to point to as motivation?
Brimm: Cheri Beasley’s campaign always believed in North Carolina and its winnability, and the results bear that out. Even with a difficult midterm turnout and in a state that Trump won twice, Cheri earned very strong support, and these results should put a spotlight on North Carolina as a key swing state that Democrats can win with powerful candidates and sufficient investment.
Budd’s narrow victory required an unprecedented amount of outside assistance from dark money Republican SuperPACs, and it’s clear North Carolinians are increasingly ready for independent candidates with records of service to this state, who are truly present in all 100 counties, and have the money to invest in a powerful message on the ground and airwaves.
The Assembly: Pundits forecasted a “red wave” that didn’t materialize. Why do you think it did not?
Brimm: The red wave was there: Republicans had a massive voter turnout advantage nationwide in 2022, with early tallies showing that the electorate was 2 points better for Republicans this year than in 2020. The partisan environment was very difficult for Democrats, especially in swing states where those voter registration advantages are even more pronounced for Republicans and non-affiliated voters, like North Carolina.
The great news is that many Democrats did still win across the country, when there was sufficient outside spending to convey the dangerous positions of Republican candidates, on issues like undermining democracy, rolling back our Constitutional freedoms and hurting our economy. And at the end of the day, while we did not get the result we wanted, we are proud to have made Republican SuperPACs spend $80 million to hold onto this seat, and that in the process we helped other Senate Democrats get over the finish line.
Felts: We never saw any evidence of a red wave here in North Carolina. We ran with a lot of bravado playing head games with the loyal opposition, but we just didn’t see it. We were always in the margin of error, which is what we expected dating back to our original plan in March 2021.
By building a strong foundation and staying focused, our campaign did not experience any sort of institutional collapse the way others seemed to on game day. We also didn’t wall our campaign off into one silo, instead reaching out to everyone. Ted was endorsed by President Donald Trump but SLF, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not go against Ted as they did in other states but instead invested almost $30 million in paid media before our primary was even resolved.
Ted’s commitment to job creation attracted the support of the Club for Growth so we had the fiscally conservative pro-business community, but we also had the main street business community in the form of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Republicans ultimately are strongest when we work together on the things we agree on. That’s how we ran this campaign.