Rep. Ted Budd, RN.C., won North Carolina’s Republican Senate primary on Tuesday, beating former Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, according to NBC News.
Just after 8 p.m. ET, Budd held a roughly 30-point lead over McCrory. Her victory sets up a fall battle with Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina.
Budd was locked in a close race with McCrory for months, but managed to turn the race into less nail biters with just a few weeks, thanks mainly to two friends who recently turned enemies – former President Donald Trump and the Club for Growth, a conservative economic group spending millions on Republican primaries.
Both Trump and the Club for Growth announced their support for Budd last year. In fact, Budd was one of Trump’s first endorsements of the entire cycle. But Budd didn’t begin to build a lead in the polls until the final weeks of the race.
His push began near Trump’s April rally and as the Growth Club increased its anti-McCrory spending.
Through its Club for Growth Action Super PAC, the Club for Growth spent more than $11.2 million on ads supporting Budd last week, according to AdImpact. No other candidate or group came close to matching Club for Growth spending, as Budd, McCrory and Walker spent about $3 million between them on ads last week, according to ad tracking firm AdImpact.
Carter Wren, a North Carolina GOP strategist, told NBC News that the Club for Growth’s massive spending on the race was what helped secure Budd’s victory.
“I think it’s all about the money,” he said, adding, “It sounds too simple to be true. But, you know, you’re talking about a statewide race where you have to talk to a million primary voters.
McCrory, who was once the mayor of Charlotte, rose to national prominence in 2016 when he signed North Carolina’s ‘toilet bill’, which required people to use bathrooms in public facilities consistent with their sex assigned at birth. The state faced a huge backlash from corporations, which pulled investments and events out of North Carolina in response.
That backlash contributed to his narrow re-election defeat to incumbent Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and parts of the law were later repealed.
Budd had a lower profile entering the race. A member of the House Freedom Caucus, he opposed the results of the 2020 presidential election after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In early March, as the war in Ukraine raged, McCrory accused Budd of voting “friendly” to Russia.
That month, the Budd campaign’s internal poll showed McCrory with a 6-point lead. The race quickly took a turn. Starting in April, polls showed Budd with leads of over 24 and 27 points.
“That’s a big lead,” Trump said at a rally for Budd last month. Do you remember the governor of the bathroom? What a mess it was.
A Meredith College survey earlier this month suggested Budd had a slimmer 7-point advantage and showed the congressman was strongest “with the most conservative Republican voters” while McCrory held an edge with the self-identified moderate and urban Republicans.
Jonathan Felts, senior adviser for the Budd campaign, said Trump’s endorsement initially helped raise funds and grassroots activists were asking to help. But last month’s rally “took place when the dam broke”.
“Anyone who had been a little shy, kind of sitting on the sidelines, it felt like the time to come off the sideline to kind of pick a side,” he said.
But just as Trump and the Club for Growth appeared to be building support for Budd, their relationship soured as the group continued to back Josh Mandel in the Ohio GOP Senate primary after Trump announced his support for the future. winner JD Vance. The Club for Growth has since announced it is backing Kathy Barnette in the Pennsylvania Senate primary — a direct rebuke of Trump’s pick Mehmet Oz.
Jordan Shaw, an adviser to McCrory, said “no one” expected an outside group to spend as much on the primary as the Club for Growth Action, which hit McCrory with ads claiming he was a Liberal Republican of Name Only, or RINO, and a supporter of sanctuary cities.
Shaw particularly took issue with the Sanctuary Cities announcement, which he considered “a complete lie,” pointing out that McCrory had signed a bill that would ban cities and counties from adopting sanctuary policies.
“When you have a group that has unlimited resources and isn’t encumbered with the ties of truth, that can have a pretty powerful impact on a race,” Shaw said, adding, “They outspend everyone. world together, and they have no problem lying to Republican voters to get their way.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, declined an earlier interview through a spokesperson, but said in a statement that “primary voters in North Carolina want a principled conservative like Ted Budd as opposed to to a failed RINO like Pat McCrory”.
In a statement after Budd’s win, McIntosh said the band was “proud to have played a part in helping Rep. Ted Budd get the nomination.”
Michele Woodhouse, a former GOP district chairwoman who is now running in a primary against Rep. Madison Cawthorn, RN.C., said another big turning point for Budd in the primary was winning Robinson’s endorsement. The lieutenant governor is “incredibly popular” with grassroots conservatives in the state, she said.
“What has changed in the last few weeks is that President Trump has come to town,” she said. “And Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson came on stage and endorsed Ted.”