On paper, Ted Budd should not have a chance of winning the North Carolina Republican Senate primary today.
Rep. Budd is a fairly conventional candidate: both the man he seeks to succeed, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, and one of his fellow competitors, former Rep. Mark Walker, also previously served in the House of Representatives. But the heavy favorite should be former Gov. Pat McCrory.
McCrory has a large presence in the Tarheel state. A long-serving and well-regarded mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, he first sought the governorship in 2008, falling just short amid President Barack Obama’s landslide national victory. He bounced back to win a convincing victory in 2012 before being narrowly denied reelection in 2016.
McCrory is exactly the sort of candidate who should, according to conventional wisdom, romp to a victory in a Senate bid. His three previous runs have given him high levels of name recognition across the state, a precious commodity in any race but especially so against opposition starting with only regional bases of support. During his time as governor, he gave conservatives some key victories, from banning sanctuary cities to increasing the waiting period to get an abortion. He has fundraised competitively and has deep ties to the local GOP establishment. And indeed, early polls showed him winning the nomination.
And yet it seems as though this is hardly a race at all. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Rep. Budd leads former Gov. McCrory by a massive 18 points, 40-22, with Walker polling at asterisk level in the single digits. Of course, there is one factor not thus far mentioned: Budd has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who has assailed McCrory as too liberal and too likely to lose. It is hard to explain why Budd is likely to win tonight by any other means than by Trump’s endorsement.
But there is also compelling evidence that Trump’s backing is not sufficient in and of itself to boost a candidate to victory. He suffered his first endorsement loss of the cycle last week in the Nebraska primary, when agriculture executive Charles Herbster lost by five points to a more conventional candidate, businessman Jim Pillen. Herbster had some controversies as a candidate, most prominent among them a slew of sexual assault allegations, which he denied. Yet even less problematic candidates may find today that Trump’s endorsement alone is insufficient for victory.
Chief among them may well be Idaho Lt. Gov. Jance McGeachin. McGeachin is seeking a promotion to the governor’s office. But the incumbent, fellow Republican Brad Little, is seeking reelection for the post, setting up another showdown in today’s primaries. The relationship between McGeachin and Little is, to put it mildly, strained. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the two feuded over various restrictions. In one instance, McGeachin issued an executive order banning mask mandates while Little was out of state, only for him to rescind the order upon returning. A second time when Little was out of state, McGeachin issued another executive order, this time banning vaccination mandates. Once again, Little reversed the order upon his return. Little argued that, while never ordering any such mandates himself, such decisions should be left to localities and private companies. By contrast, McGeachin argued that protecting individual rights demanded the government step in. McGeachin also sports an endorsement from Trump. But in what polling is available, Gov. Little leads Lt. Gov. McGeachin by wide margins, and most election prognosticators expect Little to win easily. If McGeachin were to win tonight, it would be a stunning upset.
That the GOP is generally positioned for a strong 2022 election cycle is not in doubt right now. Whose and which GOP emerges from it is an entirely different question — one that may be partially answered today.