Work the plan: Methodical campaign drives Budd to US Senate 

Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) greets supporters with his wife, Amy Kate Budd, left, after winning his U.S. Senate race against Cheri Beasley at his election night watch party in Winston-Salem, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

RALEIGH — A campaign launch with fireworks and a monster truck named the “Liberal Agenda Crusher” could have given voters the idea that Ted Budd was going to be flashy, loud and boisterous as a candidate for U.S. Senate. 

But on the campaign trail, voters were able to see Budd talk about family, the economy and securing the southern border. 

At its core, the Budd campaign was a representation of the candidate himself — disciplined and focused. 

There was no obvious frontrunner for Republicans entering the 2022 U.S. Senate race. The first person to enter was former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who released an announcement video in December 2020. Yet despite the early start, Walker never received traction in the race. 

One of the most talked about candidates was former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. 

As a longtime mayor and one-term governor, McCrory had run for statewide office three times. He ended his radio show on Charlotte’s WBT to enter the race and hired one of the preeminent political consultants in the state, Paul Shumaker, to run his campaign.  

Still, there was an opening for a candidate who could earn support from both the grassroots and business communities. 

In a June 2021 profile, Budd told North State Journal he felt he was battle-tested, having prevailed in his first run for office in a 17-way primary and, later in 2018, when Democrats heavily outspent him in the general election. 

“Nobody else has been through a race like that,” Budd said at the time. 

It was an early June night, of course, that changed the course of the race. 

At the North Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention in Greenville, the special guest of the evening, former President Donald Trump, provided a boost. 

It was there, nearly 11 months before the primary, that Trump endorsed Budd on the stage. NSJ wrote at the time that the nearly 1,000 in attendance alternately cheered and gasped at the news. In the weeks following the announcement, a Budd campaign official said the endorsement “supercharged” the campaign. 

Still, endorsement or not, Budd was confident of victory. 

Several months before the primary the campaign unveiled its “Budd crew chiefs” in all 100 counties showing that an effort among grassroots was well underway.  

“Our initial campaign plan didn’t anticipate being organized in all 100 counties this early,” senior adviser Jonathan Felts said at the time, “but President Trump’s early endorsement has allowed us to accelerate our campaign buildout.” 

On the financial side, Budd was able to transfer funds from his existing U.S. House account to a Senate run and was soon to be the beneficiary of outside spending by the Club for Growth.  

A key ally helping Budd separate himself in a 17-person primary when he ran in 2016, the Club for Growth spent upward of $14 million in the primary to boost Budd over the field. That spending was critical as the primary was delayed by the N.C. Supreme Court from March to May because of redistricting litigation and put a pause on the race — and became a gap which the group would fill. 

By the time of the May primary, the result was not in doubt and Budd won with 59% of the vote, setting up a battle with the Democratic nominee, Cheri Beasley. 

Beasley entered the race with backing from North Carolina’s Democratic establishment. She was seen as a more electable candidate than state Sen. Jeff Jackson, who famously told national Democratic leaders he would not sit in a “windowless basement” and instead wanted to run a grassroots campaign for the seat. 

The Beasley campaign got off to an uneven start as the former state Supreme Court chief justice was coming off a loss of 401 votes in 2020. She was working at the powerhouse law firm McGuireWoods in Raleigh and initially did not leave the firm to run. Beasley turned over campaign staff following negative attention for sharing a joint fundraising account with progressive U.S. Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri. She was also criticized by former state Sen. Erica Smith for refusing to take progressive positions in the race, such as ending the filibuster. 

The weight of the state’s Democratic establishment forced both Smith and Jackson from the race by the end of the year. The field cleared and it became clear Beasley would be the first black woman to emerge as a party nominee for U.S. Senate. 

The Beasley-Budd contest would not attract the major spending of classic U.S. Senate races. Longtime observers of the state’s politics can recite stories of the Helms-Hunt 1984 race, the Helms-Gantt contests of 1990 and 1996, and even the rise of John Edwards and back-to-back defeats of Erskine Bowles. Just two years ago, Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham’s race set a spending record that would be shattered by the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs in January 2021. 

Budd took aim at Beasley over inflation and crime while Beasley attempted to tie Budd to a so-called “national abortion ban” and a smattering of other issues. In some ads, Beasley enlisted several retired judges in an attempt to portray herself as above the political fray. 

The outside spending that did come into the race would dent voters’ views of Beasley. Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC with ties to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, spent $38 million in the fall campaign. The group’s ads focused on controversial decisions Beasley was involved in that led to the release of sexual predators from prison without monitoring and cases in which Beasley called a convicted murderer of a state trooper a “good person.” 

In the final month of the campaign, the two candidates crisscrossed the state to boost turnout among their party’s supporters. Budd brought in Trump, earned the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and showered attention on the state east of I-95 and west of I-77 in a strategy reminiscent of outgoing U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Beasley did not campaign with the sitting president or any major national Democrats. 

Budd inched ahead in both public and private polling in the final weeks of the race. The campaign in background briefings said they felt confident in where the race stood, somewhere around a 3-5% margin. 

By Election Day, that’s where the race would end as Budd would take a 3.7% victory on the way to winning by more than 135,000 votes. 

At his victory party in Winston-Salem, Budd thank his family and supporters, and he told the crowd as senator he would act in their interest. 

“I’ve seen firsthand folks suffering under Joe Biden’s economic policies that are crushing family budgets,” he said. “Biden and his allies want more from you and I want more for you. With their votes today, the people of North Carolina have sent a clear signal that the Biden agenda is wrong for America. It’s time to start creating jobs again instead of destroying jobs, and I’m ready to fight for that in the U.S. Senate.” 

Felts, who will lead Budd’s transition operation, said back in June 2021: “Ted has a unique ability in politics in that the more you get to know him, the more you like him.” 

On Nov. 8, the voters of North Carolina agreed with his assessment. 

About Matt Mercer 472 Articles
Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected].