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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Rep. Ted Budd, former President Donald Trump’s chosen candidate in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, has built a dominant lead even as voters cast their ballots in the Republican primary.

Budd, the 13th District representative from Advance who earned Trump’s endorsement and has millions in super PAC money to spend, now has the support of 43% of Republican voters, based on the most recent WGHP/The Hill/Emerson College Poll, a 5-point increase from the first poll conducted in April.

That widened Budd’s lead to 27 points over his next closest challenger, former Gov. Pat McCrory, among the 14 Republicans seeking to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr. McCrory (16%) lost six points from the previous poll, and former Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro gained three points as the third choice, garnering 12%. Kenneth Harper had 3%, and David Flaherty and Marjorie Eastman each had 2%.

Ted Budd (Courtesy of US Congress)
Rep. Ted Budd (Courtesy of US Congress)

Budd appears to have gained from more voters’ having made up their minds – 16% are undecided compared to 23% in April – and 61% of likely voters said Trump’s endorsement was important, which is two percentage points higher than in April.

Only 14% said Trump’s endorsement makes them less likely to vote for his choice, but 25% said it would make no difference.

The poll was conducted Saturday through Monday among 1,000 registered voters by telephone and online surveys and weighted by various demographics based on 2022 turnout modeling. The poll has a Credibility Interval – which is similar to a margin of error – of +/- 4.5 percentage points.

Early in-person voting continues through Saturday in advance of Tuesday’s primary, and 28% of respondents said they already had voted. Another 56% said they were very likely to vote, and 9% were somewhat likely. Budd would need 30% plus one vote to avoid a runoff election.

Budd’s campaign

Eastman had joined McCrory and Walker in half of the four televised debates staged in this race, but Budd sat out all of them, including the final one at WGHP,  citing his preference to talk to voters rather than compare positions on issues.

North Carolina's Republican US Senate candidates to square off in final debate
North Carolina's Republican US Senate candidates to square off in final debate

Budd, a gun-shop owner who has been in Congress since 2016, has a commitment of $14 million from Club for Growth, a conservative super PAC that helped fund his rise from a 17-candidate field to win that seat.

Trump surprised some when he threw his support to Budd, but Budd was one of 147 Republicans who on Jan. 6, 2021, lodged objections to certifying President Joe Biden’s election even after Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol and drove members of Congress into hiding. Budd also voted against impeachment.

Budd has led in every poll conducted by news sites in advance of this election. Both McCrory and Walker have decried the fact that Budd’s campaign has been boosted by Club for Growth’s numerous television adds that attacked his opponents

“I met with President Trump, and he promised his full support in whatever election I would have,” Walker said in the final debate. “But this [his choosing Budd] was an example of endorsements and backroom deals in Washington. North Carolina doesn’t want to be told what to do.”

Said McCrory: “Let those voters know that Ted Budd is a poster boy for everything wrong with Washington, D.C. Bought and paid for by a third-party group that has paid $14 million on deceitful ads about Mark and myself.”

Head-to-head for November

There are also 11 Democrats seeking the nomination, and Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, is the presumptive nominee and has raised by far the most contributions among candidates in both parties. The poll didn’t compare her to other candidates.

But it does show that in a head-to-head match that Budd holds a 7-percentage point lead, 48% to 41%, with 10% of voters undecided. That’s the same margin as shown in polling in April.

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

The poll shows that Beasley would beat McCrory head-to-head, 44%-39%, with 17% undecided. There was no head-to-head with Walker in this poll.

Much of Budd’s advantage is among male voters, the data show, with women more evenly divided.

 “There is a gender divide in the potential general election matchup between Budd and Beasley in North Carolina,” Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said in a release. “A majority, 51%, of male voters support Ted Budd compared to 39% supporting Cheri Beasley, while female voters are split: 45% support Budd and 44% support Beasley.”