GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The race for the U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina sometimes feels like a duel of law enforcement officials on Main Street at High Noon, with agents lining up behind the candidates’ positions related to law enforcement.

Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance), the Republican nominee, is the latest to draw in this showdown with Democrat Cheri Beasley, earning the endorsement of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association.

Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Budd, who since 2016 has represented the 13th Congressional District, have been neck-and-neck in their race to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr. Libertarian Shannon Bray and Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh also are in the race.

Both Budd and Beasley have run out an array of backers with badges, and the NC PBA, which is an organization of sworn and retired public law enforcement officers, is the latest to support Budd after having backed Beasley in earlier judicial elections.

Budd also cites endorsements from the North Carolina State Troopers Association – which had supported Beasley in prior elections – the Border Patrol and numerous sheriffs from across the state. Beasley recently announced her “Law Enforcement for Beasley” group of supporters from numerous law enforcement agencies.

David Rose, president of the North Carolina division of the PBA, said his group’s endorsement committee and board had chosen to support Budd because he has supported its members. He also related Budd’s record to immigration as a key element in the issue of crime in the state.

“Ted Budd understands the risks and dangers law enforcement officers face every day here in NC, or at the US Southern border, which now impacts all 100 counties in NC,” Rose said in a release announcing the endorsement. “With violent crime on the rise in North Carolina, more than ever before, we need a senator who has our backs and not someone who is supported by ‘Defund the Police’ activists.”

Beasley, who was a public defender and prosecutor before becoming a judge, has not supported defunding the police, but after the killing of George Floyd, she did speak out about criminal justice in the Black community.

The NCPBA, which has a history of supporting Republican candidates in statewide races, had endorsed Beasley in her pursuit of the chief justice seat in 2020 (which she lost by about 400 votes to Republican Paul Newby) and had done so in her previous statewide races (in 2008 and 2014).

Budd touts his congressional support for the Community Policing Act, broader penalties for rioting, policing of so-called “sanctuary cities” and the bipartisan Public Safety Officer Support Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on Aug. 15, which expanded death and disability benefits for officers being affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Our law enforcement officers are on the front lines of keeping our communities safe every day, and I am honored the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association has endorsed me,” Budd said in a statement released by his staff. “If our citizens don’t feel safe, our communities suffer across the board. Law enforcement departments across North Carolina share a commitment for protecting North Carolinians and making life better.

“Other folks might prefer the ‘Defund the Police’ crowd, but I’m proud to stand with the NCPBA and law enforcement officers across North Carolina who protect and serve our communities.”

Dory MacMillan, a spokesperson for Beasley’s campaign, said in a statement responding to questions from WGHP that “for over two decades Cheri has partnered with law enforcement to keep North Carolina safe and she is committed to standing up for law enforcement in the Senate, which is why she has earned the support of sheriffs and other members of law enforcement from across the state.” 

Franklin County Sheriff Kent Winstead, in a statement through Beasley’s campaign: “Cheri Beasley has partnered with us to keep communities safe, and I trust her to follow the rule of law – no matter the politics. I know firsthand that she leads with integrity and honesty and Cheri is the only candidate in this North Carolina Senate race that law enforcement can trust to stand with law enforcement in Washington. Congressman Budd talks a big game about supporting law enforcement, but the fact is he’s voted against funding for our departments and against resources to help us tackle the opioid crisis, and actions speak louder than words.”

Ironically neither crime nor immigration is a prime issue in this race, a WGHP/Emerson College/The Hill Poll of likely voters in North Carolina found. The results, released this week, showed that both polled at less than 4% as key voting factors, far behind economy/inflation, the threat to democracy, abortion rights and health care. Most cited abortion rights as the biggest motivator to vote.

“We do see the economy holding pretty steady at 40% as the most important issue,” said Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling.