GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The huge lead for Rep. Ted Budd in the first poll about the Republicans vying for the U.S. Senate nomination was a surprise, and there were a couple of other points out of those results that bear note, too.

Former Rep. Mark Walker had 9% of the vote, and newcomer Marjorie K. Eastman was a surprising 1.5%. Nearly 1 in 4 voters, though, remain undecided.

That WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College Poll, the first non-partisan poll conducted in this race, found that Budd, who has represented the current 13th Congressional District since 2016, has the support of 38% of likely voters, 16 points better than former Gov. Pat McCrory.

A poll released April 7 by the Civitas Foundation, a partisan supporter of GOP issues, had Budd at 32% and an 11-point lead over McCory, with Walker slightly worse (7%) and Eastman slightly better (3%). But Civitas put the undecided figure at a resounding 39%.

Budd, a gun-shop owner from Advance, started his political career by winning a 17-candidate primary in 2016 with only 20% of the vote. He had a financial advantage in that race from Club For Growth, a conservative super PAC that again is investing millions in his campaign.

He also has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, which the WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College Poll found was a decisive factor for nearly 6 in 10 voters.

Chris Cooper, an elections expert and professor at Western Carolina University, said he wondered if polls that weigh results based on the 2020 election will be a true predictor of the outcomes this year, especially given that unaffiliated voters have surpassed Democrats as the plurality in the state (34.7% to 34.4%). Republicans have 30.2%, meaning that swing voters swing elections.

“I am just not sure whether this electorate will resemble the 2020 electorate, or if we’ll see different demographic patterns in a non-Presidential election year,” Cooper wrote in an email to WGHP. “I also wonder how many ‘Unaffiliateds’ will choose the more competitive Republican primary this time instead of the more competitive Democratic primary in 2020.”

Surprising in some ways

There are 14 Republicans in the field, but the only four to have garnered much attention are Budd, McCrory – especially with their frequent TV ads attacking each other – Walker and Eastman.

Walker, a Greensboro resident, was a 3-term Congressman in the 6th District before a redrawing of maps made that district unfavorable for a Republican in 2020. He was one of the first to announce for the Senate.

Eastman is a first-time candidate and author from Cary who leaped into the picture primarily because she outraised Walker in contributions during the fourth quarter of 2021. She participated in a debate in February with McCrory and Walker – Budd skipped – sponsored by the John Locke Foundation. But that attention has not translated in the polls to more than an afterthought.

“I thought Eastman would have a little more push than that.” Cooper said. “She has been getting on the debate stage, and campaigning pretty hard — to see her get 7 people saying they’d vote for her was a stunner for me. 7% I would have understood, but 7 voters. Ouch!

“Walker was roughly where I thought he would be, but the Budd/McCrory difference was much, much better than I anticipated.”

Walker declines to withdraw

Republican Senate candidate Mark Walker of Greensboro (WGHP)

Walker said the fact that he wasn’t part of former President Trump’s rally on Saturday didn’t deter his commitment in seeking the nomination. His campaign issued a statement on Monday:

We are grateful for all the encouraging calls and messages from voters across the state after Saturday’s rally. This past week I was offered several deals to get out of the U.S. Senate race with the condition I would be a surprise guest at Saturday’s rally to appear on stage and to endorse Mr. Budd as the best candidate in the race. If I accepted the terms, I would be ‘praised’ by a couple of the speakers for being a ‘great conservative.’

“I didn’t play this game in DC and I won’t do it now. I refused their offer. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge I am somewhat disappointed by Saturday’s events, but I am undeterred. My faith is intact, I am blessed with the prayers of the people and I am at peace with my decision to fight for North Carolinians and win the nomination to be your next United States Senator. May God provide the path forward.”

About Eastman

Eastman, who served two combat tours during her military career, has made crime a key issue of her campaign, and in an interview with WNCN-Ch. 17 in Raleigh, she talked about how “the rise in crime has been the highest in four decades.”

WNCN checked the validity of her comments and found they were “more true than false.” Duke professor Philip Cook told WNCN that “the increase in the murder rate was the largest that we’ve ever seen in recorded history.” James Brunet of North Carolina State says her statement was “broadly accurate.”

The U.S. homicide rate increased from about 6 for every 100,000 people in 2019 to 7.8 a year later, with only three states — Maine, New Mexico and Alaska — showing declines, WNCN reported. But Brunet cautioned that 1- or 2-point swings in the short term can be misleading.

Beasley is winning the money race

Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley

The presumptive Democratic nominee in the Senate race, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, continues to rake in the cash while the Republicans seek to rake in voters. Although first-quarter campaign reports are not due to the Federal Election Commission until Thursday, Beasley revealed last week that she had raised more than $3.6 million in the first three months of the year.

Coupled with her best-in-the-race donations already in hand, her campaign reported her available cash of $5 million. She should be able to save much of that to use against Budd – or whichever Republican advances. Although there are 11 Democrats in the field, her chief competitors – state Sen. Jeff Jackson and state Sen. Erica Smith – withdrew to run for Congress, Jackson in the 14th District and Smith in the 2nd.

Tidbits

  • Before Saturday’s rally, McCrory’s campaign put out a series of questions about why Budd would appear at the same rally as controversial 11th District Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville). Cawthorn’s outrageous comments recently have cast some doubt on whether he can win a 13-person primary to retain his seat. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed state Sen. Chuck Edwards, as did state Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) and state House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). McCrory questioned why Budd would want to be associated with Cawthorn.
  • Retiring Rep. GK Butterfield (D-Wilson) has the person he wants to succeed him in representing the 1st Congressional District. Last week he endorsed state Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Chapel Hill). Foushee in a social media comment said: “Congressman Butterfield has served his district honorably for nearly twenty years. His faith in me and the work I’ll do to fight for working people and families in Congress is humbling.”
  • Trump endorsed Winston-Salem resident Bo Hines from among the eight candidates in the Republican field for the 13th Congressional District, but the North Carolina Values Coalition endorsed minister Chad Slotta, who is strong in his anti-abortion position. Another Republican group had declined to endorse Hines because he doesn’t live in the district. Hines, a native of Gaston County, had filed to run in two other districts while the maps were being decided.
  • Republicans running for Greensboro City Council – the races are non-partisan – have been invited to speak at a lunch meeting of the Guilford County Republican Party at 11:45 a.m. April 19 at Kickback Jack’s, 1600 Battleground Ave. The cost of the meal is $20 or a $5 donation if you don’t eat. For reservations or information, contact Wayne Ford at 336-312-1447 or wayne.ford@ymail.com.