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RALEIGH, NC — This morning, Cook Political Report upgraded the North Carolina Senate race from Leans Republican to Toss Up, fresh off Cal Cunningham’s commanding victory in the North Carolina Senate Primary and “multiple public and private polls [that] have shown a competitive race with Tillis in the danger zone for an incumbent.”
Despite Mitch McConnell’s efforts to meddle in the primary in the final weeks, Cook notes that “Cunningham ended up winning the primary easily” and had “an impressive pre-primary fundraising boom where he outraised Tillis by 2-to-1.”
While Cal invested in “positive ads [that] raised Cunningham’s name ID in the state,” Cook notes that “Tillis has struggled to regain his footing among conservatives in the state after starting to cross Trump last year on emergency funding for the border wall before relenting to side with the president.”
Read more below.
Cook Political Report: Super Tuesday Senate Takeaways: North Carolina Moves to Toss Up
By Jessica Taylor – March 6, 2020
This primary had a lot of drama at the end, with the Senate Leadership Fund admitting they were behind a mysterious super PAC that spent $2.5 million on ads designed to boost state Sen. Erica Smith and ding Cunningham for not being progressive enough. The calculation — which Democrats have also made in Republican primaries in the past — was that if they could get the weaker and cash-strapped Smith as their nominee, that would boost the odds for Tillis in the general.
However, Cunningham ended up winning the primary easily by 22 points, 57%-35%, although Smith, who is black, did perform well in heavily African-American areas and in her legislative district.
Republicans counter that their ads worked in forcing Cunningham and his allies to spend big in the primary. VoteVets spent nearly $7.5 million while Carolina Blue kicked in $4.1 million, with Cunningham spending $1.4 million too. It’s a reversal from 10 years ago when the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran had also been endorsed by the DSCC but fell short in the primary, and Democrats were going to make sure they got the candidate they believed to be strongest in a general election against Tillis over the finish line. However, those positive ads also raised Cunningham’s name ID in the state, and he had an impressive pre-primary fundraising boom where he outraised Tillis by 2-to-1.
Furthermore, multiple public and private polls have shown a competitive race with Tillis in the danger zone for an incumbent. An NBC/Marist poll last week gave Cunningham a 48%-43% edge among registered voters, and winning independent voters 48%-39%. An East Carolina poll gave Tillis a 44%-42% edge, a statistical tie.
The bottom line is that Tillis has struggled to regain his footing among conservatives in the state after starting to cross Trump last year on emergency funding for the border wall before relenting to side with the president. North Carolina is going to be a closely-fought race at the presidential level too and has a competitive governor’s race. This Senate contest could well end up deciding the balance of power in the chamber, and Democrats are encouraged that primary turnout was up over 2016.
We are moving this race from Lean Republican to Toss Up.