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On My Mind: Cal Cunningham's Sexting Stumble

A few weeks ago, Cal Cunningham posted a photo of himself talking about how much he loves barbecue. That’s an easy win here in the greatest barbecue state in America. The problem was that in the picture, Cunningham was standing in front of a propane grill instead of a smoker, and there was a plate of hot dog buns. For a North Carolina politician, it was about as dumb a move as you could make.


Well, it turns out there is at least one thing Cal Cunningham is dumber about than barbecue.

The Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate has admitted having some sort of romantic encounter with a woman who is not his wife. At the very least there was some sexting going on; the woman says the relationship was physical. Cunningham apologized for the hurt he caused his family, but he declined to say exactly what he was apologizing for.

Cunningham has been holding a small but steady lead over Republican incumbent Thom Tillis, who must be seeing Cunningham’s troubles as a gift from God. Tillis has his own problems. The hardcore right has never fully trusted him, even as he steered harder and harder toward President Trump. Tillis was one of the politicians who went to the White House ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett – the ceremony that has become infamous for likely spreading COVID-19 throughout the top of the GOP.

Tillis, like Trump, has tested positive for the virus. It’s one thing to suck up to your boss, but that seems like a little more solidarity than is absolutely necessary.

Where does all this leave us in terms of who’s going to win? You might as well consult a Magic 8 Ball at this point. The race was close to begin with. Hundreds of thousands of voters have already turned in their ballots by mail. The voters still left are faced with a moral compromise.

If you’re conservative, you can’t disqualify Cunningham for adultery without disqualifying Trump, who has set Olympic records for adultery. And at this point Tillis can’t run away from Trump’s record.

But if you’re liberal, you can’t complain about Trump’s lack of character without admitting Cunningham’s lack of character.

The thing I’d worry about if I were Cunningham is not that his voters will flock to Tillis, but that they’ll just sit this race out.

With the country drifting left, and Tillis vulnerable to begin with, it has always felt like all Cunningham had to do to win is not step on his own shoelaces. Instead, he tied his shoelaces together and stepped on a rake.

He can’t duck his way out of it. He has to admit to whatever he did – all of it – and beg for another chance. It still might not be enough. But if voters never forgave anybody for bad behavior, there’d be a lot of blank ballots on Election Day.

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