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Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd will be the Republican nominee for North Carolina’s open Senate seat, the Associated Press projected Tuesday night, marking the latest nod to the former president’s enduring sway over the Republican electorate.
The AP called the race for Budd at 7:47 p.m. Eastern time, less than 20 minutes after polls closed.
Budd had 56.5% of the vote with 25% of precincts reporting as of 7:55 p.m., followed by former Gov. Pat McCrory at 26.8%, according to results compiled by the AP.
Former Rep. Mark Walker is in a distant third place with just 8.8%, months after Politico reported that Trump encouraged Walker to drop out of the Senate contest in December in exchange for the former president’s endorsement in a House race.
What To Watch For
Budd will face off against Democratic nominee and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in a November general election, which could help determine which party controls the Senate for two years. Some experts think Republicans will have a slight edge in North Carolina, a traditionally conservative state where Democrats have gained some ground in recent years: A Democratic nominee plagued by a sexting scandal lost to incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R) by fewer than two points in 2020, but this year’s election is expected to be more favorable to Republicans nationwide.
Budd and McCrory ran to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R), who was censured by the state Republican Party for voting to convict former President Donald Trump in an impeachment trial following the 2021 Capitol riot. Trump endorsed Budd—a relatively low-profile member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus—over McCrory and Walker in June 2021, a decision that was widely seen as a surprise move. McCrory led in some polls last year and earlier this year. However, the former president praised Budd at a rally last month, and the conservative Club for Growth and its affiliates have run TV advertisements backing Budd and attacking McCrory, likely contributing to the evaporation of McCrory’s lead.
The successes and failures of Trump-endorsed candidates are a closely watched metric for the former president’s sway over the Republican Party. Trump has endorsed dozens of primary candidates this year, sometimes attempting to settle scores against Republican officials whom he views as insufficiently loyal. Only one Trump endorsee has lost at the ballot box so far—Charles Herbster, a Nebraska gubernatorial hopeful who has denied multiple allegations of sexual misconduct—but many are incumbents who face virtually no opposition. Trump-backed Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue is polling well behind incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in next week’s Republican primary.
Trump and the business-focused Club for Growth backed the same candidate in North Carolina despite feuding in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. Ohio Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance—who was endorsed by Trump—attacked primary challenger Josh Mandel for being supported by the Club for Growth, which he derided as the “club for Chinese growth.” Meanwhile, the Club for Growth has spent millions of dollars on ads for Kathy Barnette, an insurgent Pennsylvania Senate candidate running against Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz.