Democrats have a surprising chance to flip this Senate seat — but only if they hurry: expert
Cheri Beasley. (Paul Morigi/Brookings Institution)

The open U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina represents a “sleeper race” offering Democrats one of their best opportunities to gain on Republicans in the November 8.

But that’s only if they start showing some urgency on a national level. The contest between former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, and Republican Congressman Ted Budd is considered a dead heat, Politico reported today.

Professor Michael Bitzer, an expert in North Carolina elections, told Raw Story that “the clock is ticking” for national Democrats to make a priority out of the race. Bitzer, chairman of the Catawba College politics department, says the race has been viewed so far as “second-tier” by the national party despite its closeness. That might need to change if Democrats hope to pull off an upset, he said.

“Not only have we got over 10,000 votes already banked in North Carolina through absentee by mail, but early voting starts on October 20 and goes up to the Saturday before the general election,” Bitzer says. “The bulk of votes will come before November 8. if any party thinks that they can wait until two weeks or a week before general election that ship will have sailed.”

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Bitzer described Beasley as a “nearly ideal candidate” for North Carolina Democrats and says her race in winnable. But he notes that Budd starts with a natural advantage because of the election cycle.

‘The fundamentals of this midterm certainly benefit Budd,” Bitzer said. “You have the classic dynamics of the economy and particularly inflation that always tends to build an advantage to the opposition of the President’s party. Registered Republicans have had the highest turnout rate of any registered voter group in North Carolina.”

One new factor that could alter the landscape, however, is the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision that ended Roe v. Wade. Bitzer says the suburban areas outside Raleigh and Charlotte are the most competitive regions in the state and that “where the dynamic is really going to play out with Dobbs is if it produces a more moderate voice from those voters.”

If moderation were to carry the day, Beasley gives the Democrats their best chance to win the state, Bitzer said. Here’s his thumbnail analysis of Beasley:

“If you had to paint a picture of an almost ideal Democratic candidate, it would be her. She has run statewide, she's got name recognition, she draws a core constituency of democratic voters to the poll. The only kind of strike against her is she's not a very charismatic, energizing kind of candidate. But she was a judge and judges don't tend to be, you know, wildly charismatic unless you're in Alabama with Roy Moore.

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“I think she’s threaded all the needles. She’s done the fundraising and put the boots on the ground. She is a moderate centrist, kind of candidate. She's started to work the abortion angle. All of these factors line up in a domino sequence, and you know, if something were to go her way, cut in the last couple of weeks, she could make this race as competitive as the polls are showing and maybe pull something off.”

Bitzer added that he still believes that the fundamentals of a midterm class favor Budd, who he called “a classic, now Trump Republican candidate.” Budd won the Republican primary with a decisive 58.6 percent of the voters in a crowded field – more than 34 percentage points ahead of moderate former Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Budd appeals highly to North Carolina Republican voters,” he said. “Republican Party politics in this state is Trumpism. You have to play by Trump’s rules, get his endorsement and the voters respond to it.

“This is a classic battle between Trumpism and something more moderate.”

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It’s also a microcosm of the divide in the nation. Bitzer said North Carolina is “a stuck battleground state” with both sides able to count on about 46 percent of the votes, so turnout and the leanings of independent voters are pivotal, he said.

“The wild card in North Carolina politics is the registered, unaffiliated voter. Whoever unlocks the key to them is most likely to win.”

In the 2020 presidential election, North Carolina was the state won by Trump with the smallest margin -- just 1.35 percent. But because the outcome wasn’t contested by Democrats, that outcome received far less attention than President Joe Biden’s larger wins in Nevada (2.39 percent) and Michigan (2.78 percent).

Also, Trump won North Carolina (74.483) with a smaller total-vote margin than Biden won Pennsylvania (80,555), which was ground zero for Trump’s Big Lie.