GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Front-runner Ted Budd is making it a clean sweep: He won’t participate in Tuesday’s final debate among Republican candidates to be the next U.S. Senator from North Carolina.

Rep. Budd (R-Advance), author Marjorie Eastman, former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker have been the top four among the 14 Republicans who have filed to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr of Winston-Salem. There are also 11 Democrats who will contend in the Primary Election starting on April 28. A Libertarian will join the winners in November.

Spectrum News political anchor Tim Boyum moderates an hourlong debate between Republican U.S. Senate candidates Pat McCrory, Mark Walker and Marjorie Eastman at the Spectrum News studio in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Candidate Ted Budd declined to participate in the debate. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

Budd’s spokesperson Jonathan Felts sent an email late Friday to confirm that Budd would not appear in the debate at 7 p.m. in WGHP’s studios in High Point – aired live on WGHP and streamed at www.myfox8.com – with McCrory and Walker.

The participants were chosen based on the  WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College Poll that showed Budd with a 38% of the support from likely Republican voters, followed by former Gov. McCrory (22%) and former Rep. Walker (9%). Eastman drew only 1.5% in the poll and did not meet the threshold to qualify.

McCrory and Walker have been on the debate stage three times before this – Eastman has joined them twice – but Budd each time has declined to participate, citing campaign priorities that kept him away.

Republican Congressman Ted Budd speaks at a Make America Great Again rally in Greensboro International Airport, in Greensboro, North Carolina on October 27, 2020. (Photo by Grant BALDWIN / AFP) (Photo by GRANT BALDWIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Republican Congressman Ted Budd (Photo by Grant BALDWIN / AFP) (Photo by GRANT BALDWIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Ted Budd is focused on finishing his 100 county tour of NC before the Primary so he can speak directly to voters in all 100 counties and ask for their votes,” the emailed statement from Felts said. “Some candidates like to look voters in the eye and ask for their votes, while other candidates prefer the comfort and convenience of TV studios and media personalities. Ted has a day job, fighting the Biden Agenda in Congress, so we have to balance out talking directly to voters in all 100 counties and  Congressional votes. Ted chooses talking directly with voters and fighting the woke Biden agenda over talking to other candidates who probably won’t vote for Ted in the Primary.” 

Whether or not he is in studio, Budd likely will be the first subject addressed by participants. He has led in every poll – WRAL-TV had him with a 33-23 lead over McCrory – and he has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, which WGHP’s poll shows matters to about 6 out of 10 Republicans.

Budd’s absence once again was the constant salvo among the three candidates who appeared in Spectrum’s debate on Wednesday night, and he was the thread of many comments because of the support Budd has drawn from the conservative super PAC Club for Growth, which funded his election to Congress in 2016 and has promised at least $14 million toward his election to the Senate.

“He hasn’t attended the three previous debates, and he probably won’t attend the last one,” McCrory said of events sponsored by the John Locke Foundation, WRAL-TV and Spectrum.

“Ted Budd is so dependent on endorsements because he has no record to run on. And when you’re so dependent upon endorsements, as Congressman Budd is, you’re going to be a weak general election candidate. And a weak general election candidate is the last thing North Carolina and our country needs right now, when we have a 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate.”

Walker and Eastman echoed that basic sentiment while unleashing their perspectives about how they would change the face of the race if they were to win the nomination.

They also all decried the infighting among Republicans – Walker reiterated how he had been asked to step aside and endorse Budd in exchange for future political favors, but he demurred – as creating negative energy for the General Election in November.

US Senate candidate profile: Cheri Beasley
US Senate candidate Cheri Beasley (WGHP FILE)

Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, is the prohibitive favorite to emerge as the Democratic nominee and has taken in more than $5 million in donations, and both McCrory and Walker said Budd’s absence and their infighting provide an opportunity for Beasley and Democrats.

“If Mr. Budd doesn’t have the courage to face Republican candidates, how the heck is he going to go against Chuck Schumer and Cheri Beasley?” Walker said in Wednesday’s debate, repeating a remark he has made previously.

The debate event prompted a comment from North Carolina Democratic Party spokesperson Kate Frauenfelder: “This divisive group of Republican U.S. Senate candidates could barely get through any answer without attacking their primary rivals. North Carolina voters expect more than the nasty political infighting that has become status quo in this primary – they want real solutions.” 

Budd did appear – along with 11th District Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Hendersonville) and 13th District candidate Bo Hines of Winston-Salem, among others – at a rally held by Trump two weeks ago in Selma. None of the other GOP candidates were invited, although Walker said that event was where he was asked “to walk on the stage and say I support Ted Budd.”

At the end of Wednesday’s debate, the candidates were asked if he or she would support Budd should he be the GOP nominee.

“Yes, but it’s a disgrace,” McCrory said. “He’s bought and paid for and hiding.”

Budd, for his part, said in a statement that he would support whoever might be nominated.

“Of course Ted Budd will support the Republican nominee,” the statement from Felts said. “We’re confident Ted Budd will be the one driving the Biden Agenda Crusher on the campaign trail across North Carolina, but on the slight chance he’s not, we’ll make sure it’s gassed up and ready to go for the Republican nominee on May 18.”

Some issues addressed

The candidates on Wednesday also addressed some issues other than Budd’s absence:

  • McCrory and Eastman said they didn’t think President Joe Biden’s election over Trump was stolen. Walker agreed but added that, “It wasn’t fair.”
  • None of the candidates could provide specific examples of where they have seen critical race theory in classrooms in North Carolina. Walker talked about “indoctrination” and cited “some books in schools.” Eastman, who is a mother, said she was concerned about the issue but had not seen evidence in the curriculum at her son’s school.
  • Walker decried taxpayers’ having to pay off any student loan debt that might be forgiven. McCrory said colleges have a role in that issue because they continue to raise costs. Eastman agreed about what she was “more than 169% tuition increase in five years” but also said students should be taught financial literacy at the earliest possible time.

This week’s debate

Tuesday’s debate, anchored by WGHP’s Bob Buckley, Ann Wyatt Little from Queen City News in Charlotte and WNCN-TV’s Rod Carter, will address questions about infrastructure, the economy, foreign policy and other important topics impacting North Carolinians.  

The program will run 7-8 p.m. on WGHP-Ch. 8 along with WJZY in Charlotte, WNCN in Raleigh, WNCT in Greenville, WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C., and WAVY in Norfolk, Va. Each of those stations’ websites also will stream the debates live.

Tidbits

  • One curious result that emerged this week in Spectrum’s pre-election poll was how familiar registered are with the candidates. As you might expect because he was a governor for four years, McCrory was recognized by 69% of the respondents. But Budd was recognized by fewer than 1 in 3 (28%) and Walker, who served three terms in Congress (2014-2019) by fewer than 1 in 5 (14%). Eastman, in her first election, had 9% name recognition. But only 1 in 4 voters (25%) said they recognized Beasley’s name. She just launched her first TV ad last week.
  • UNC-Greensboro, which touts itself as having a record number of students registered to vote, on Thursday, the first day of early voting, will have its Roll to the Polls event. Because there is no voting site on campus, shuttles will transport students to the Old Guilford County Courthouse between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • State Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), whose district includes a large portion of Guilford County, spent Tuesday touring NC A&T to see the school’s work in robotics, cybersecurity and autonomous vehicle technology – similar to what President Biden saw in his visit last week – and met with Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “North Carolina A&T is a remarkable institution,” Berger said in a release said. “The students and faculty are working on cutting-edge technology that will help solve problems here in North Carolina and across the world. Graduates receive a rewarding hands-on education that sets them up for success.”