Republican dark money is trying to wreck NC Democrats and their chances of beating GOP Sen. Thom Tillis in November by backing a long-shot Dem in order to hurt primary frontrunner Cal Cunningham.
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.
“It’s so brazen and obvious. … They recognize that Cunningham is a strong candidate, and they’re worried about holding onto that seat,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “When Republicans are weighing in for somebody, they’ve made the judgment that they’re worried about Cal, and they’re not worried about her.”
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.
Sorry folks, NC is nearly as conservative as Kentucky. I grew up there and lived in the state for 25 years. I'd love to see Erica Smith beat Tillis and be the first black woman in the US Senate from my home state, just to see everyone's head explode.
But it's not going to happen. Smith herself is the first to point out this is Republican douchebaggery. This is still the state where Jesse Helms beat Harvey Gantt with one of the most racist campaign ads in history and not much has changed in 30 years since.
Cunningham is the best shot we have, and we have to beat Tillis to get the Senate away from Mitch McConnell, period.