The ripples of Donald Trump’s splash into the 2022 midterm elections may not hit any state harder than North Carolina, where on Saturday he made the first of several expected battleground appearances over the next couple of months.
North Carolina, which has been narrowly decided in the past four presidential elections, is one of five states with a retiring Republican senator and is among a relatively slim set of states with competitive races that will determine the Senate majority.
That adds weight to both Trump’s endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd over the weekend and the strategies of the crowded field of Republican primary contenders, as they seek to win the nomination and position themselves for the November general election.
“It’s great to see President Trump engaged in an important state for our party and Nation,” Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in an emailed statement. “Republicans across the country are remarkably united on fighting the Democrats’ efforts to undo the successes Republicans and President Trump championed over the last four years and take back the Senate in 2022.”
Along with Budd, the top Republicans who’ve announced for the seat of retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R) include former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker.
Trump, speaking at the state party convention in Greenville, waited to announce his decision until after his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a North Carolina native, said she wouldn’t run for the seat. He said he wanted to do it as soon as possible because “I don’t want a lot of people running.”
Budd, who spoke on stage briefly after Trump endorsed him, immediately aligned himself with Trump upon entering the race in April. His announcement video stacked together video clips of Trump complimenting him during rallies and included mentions of election security, being a political outsider, and the swamp.
He just got another clip to use, one he’s sure to include in a primary campaign TV ad. It could also be used by Democrats in the general election, should Budd be nominated.
McCrory has criticized Trump at times on his talk radio show but also has backed him, saying he agreed with Trump’s policies and opposed both impeachment efforts against the former president. His opponents have blasted McCrory nonetheless, and Trump on Saturday criticized the former governor’s two previous losses in governor races as he explained why he backed Budd.
When McCrory entered the Senate race in April, Walker said on Twitter that the former governor “has routinely attacked conservatives including President Trump.”
Consultant Sees Biden Focus
Paul Shumaker, a veteran GOP consultant in North Carolina advising McCrory, said while Trump is the focus now, it’ll be President Joe Biden’s record that will take precedent next year.
“The election is a long ways off,” Shumaker said. “This year’s media narrative on President Trump will be replaced with the issue narrative of the Harris-Biden agenda as the November 2022 election develops next year.”
The former president is planning campaign-style rallies in a few other states with potentially competitive Senate races, including Florida, Georgia, and Ohio, though details of those events haven’t been announced.
Republicans see a chance to motivate the party’s base, which is still loyal to the former president, and are hopeful his remarks are more forward-looking than they were in North Carolina.
Trump won North Carolina in both 2016 and 2020, though by only 1 point last year. Democrats haven’t won at the presidential or Senate levels there since 2008.
Democratic Field Takes Shape
Still, Democrats say Trump will help them win in North Carolina and hold onto the Senate majority by sowing division among GOP primary candidates and continuing to focus on baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election, rather than the concerns of a majority of voters.
Democrats face a primary of their own that includes state Sen. Jeff Jackson, an attorney and captain in the Army National Guard, and Cheri Beasley, a former state supreme court chief justice who was narrowly defeated for re-election in 2020.
“Trump is escalating Republican Senate primaries across the battleground map and making these GOP intra-party fights even nastier,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said. “Republican candidates are just fighting with each other over who can suck up to Trump the most.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org