Democrats fear Republican sabotage in key Senate race
By JAMES ARKIN and BURGESS EVERETT, Politico
Democrats are growing alarmed about Republican attempts to prop up an insurgent liberal candidate in North Carolina — fearful that GOP meddling will undercut the party’s prospects in a key Senate contest.
What seems like a generic campaign ad pitching Erica Smith, a North Carolina state senator, as “the only proven progressive” in the state’s high-profile Senate race is actually part of a multimillion dollar investment from a mysterious super PAC — the innocuously named “Faith and Power PAC” — with apparent ties to Republicans.
The ad campaign, which began last week ahead of the March 3 primary, immediately disrupted the bid from frontrunner and Democratic leadership favorite Cal Cunningham to emerge from his primary and face incumbent GOP Sen. Thom Tillis in November.
The North Carolina race is critical: Without beating Tillis, Democrats’ path back to the Senate majority is nearly impossible. Cunningham, a former state lawmaker and military veteran, lost a Senate primary in 2010, and Democrats are eager to avoid the same result this year. But things are getting messy — and expensive.
Smith, whose low-budget campaign has otherwise posed little threat to Cunningham, has denounced the intervention. But the episode threatens Democrats’ hopes of getting the better-funded, more moderate Cunningham through the primary unscathed.
Well, good. I’m glad. No ConservaDem should go unchallenged just as no Republican should go unchallenged. What are you afraid of? Finding out Voters think your ideas about stealing their money for your Billionaire Buddies suck? If that’s all you have to offer you deserve to lose because you’re no better than they are and arguably worse because you know you’re a mercenary hypocrite and don’t have the refuge of delusion.
Privately, Senate Democrats have been discussing the matter internally, with one fretting that Smith is “unelectable” in a general election and will be painted as a Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) acolyte. Few in the party want to criticize Smith publicly since no matter who emerges as Democrats’ nominee, North Carolina is a must-win to take back the Senate.
But the GOP infusion of money is increasing worries about disarray.
“You want your strongest candidate. And if she’s not the strongest candidate, yes, it makes it much tougher,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who supports Cunningham. “There’s just too much money in politics, and they spend it on trying to get the weakest candidate to run against” Tillis.
Democrats have used similar tactics in past Senate races in Missouri and West Virginia to elevate weak Republicans but decry the practice in their own internal politics. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who referred to Tillis as “extremely weak” in his reelection campaign, said the GOP is “known for voter suppression and playing games with voters, and they are taking it to new heights here.”
Consider the source (ConservaDem Tester) and anybody can beat a Senator who’s head is so far up Unindicted Co-conspirator Bottomless Pinocchio’s ass the only way you can see their head is when the Puppet opens its mouth.
The public polling in the race is scarce, though Democrats’ believe months of heavy spending laid the groundwork for Cunningham to prevail. VoteVets, a group that supports Democratic veterans and endorsed Cunningham’s campaign, has spent $6 million between its super PAC and an affiliated nonprofit on positive ads for his candidacy. Cunningham has spent six figures on TV, and his campaign is also running TV ads with coordinated spending from the DSCC. Most of those efforts were underway before the apparent intervention from Republicans, but the spending has increased in the past week.
Another mysterious super PAC — “Carolina Blue” — was created last week and has spent $1.1 million backing Cunningham, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. The group has ties to national Democrats: It uses the same media buyer and bank as Senate Majority PAC, a top Democratic outside group. A Senate Majority PAC spokesperson did not return requests for comment.
“Cal Cunningham has never won a federal race he’s ran for. To suggest that this is an unbelievable recruit that Chuck Schumer got? He has no proven track record and is not known in the state,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “Schumer has funded 100 percent of the Cunningham campaign. Why would they complain if somebody else funded the opponent?”
Cunningham, who represented an area north of Charlotte in the state Senate for one term nearly two decades ago, is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and has the endorsement of the DSCC, as well as a variety of North Carolina politicians and organizations.
Smith was first elected in 2014 to an eastern North Carolina state Senate seat. She’s struggled to raise money, hauling in only slightly above $200,000 last year, with just $94,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2019. Cunningham entered January with $1.7 million in the bank.
Smith expressed frustration at the idea that she is a weaker general election candidate, saying in an interview that there is there is a “certain privilege that exudes from these statements.”
“Traditional D.C. says that the strength and the weakness of a candidate is based on their money. … We know that their theory is wrong,” she said. “Time and time again, the DSCC and D.C. — they’ve backed well-financed candidates, only to have them lose.”
Still, the Republicans’ tactic may be a boon for Smith’s campaign, which hasn’t spent any money on TV. Harrison Hickman, a pollster and consultant for former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), said Republicans were “astute” in boosting Smith because what an unknown candidate “needs more than anything else is name recognition and popularity.” But he said there could be “backlash” if voters are aware of the group’s GOP ties.
Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state, said Cunningham had a “very comfortable” lead in the race just a few weeks ago. Now, he said, it’s “no sure thing.”
In this particular case a little “both-siderism” is warranted.