Cal Cunningham's Laying Low. Is He Running The 'Four Corners?'
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris was slated to be in Charlotte for a rally Thursday to mark the first day of early voting but had to cancel because two staffers tested positive for the coronavirus.
At a rally planned for uptown’s baseball stadium, she was going to promote fellow Democratic candidates Cynthia Wallace, who is running in the 9th Congressional District, as well as Congresswoman Alma Adams, running for re-election in the 12th.
Not on the itinerary: Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham.
It’s unclear whether Cunningham – running as a centrist – was distancing himself from the Biden campaign.
Or whether the Biden-Harris campaign was distancing itself from Cunningham because of his recent affair with a public relations strategist from California.
A Cunningham campaign spokesperson said only that “we had no plans to attend.”
Cunningham last answered questions from the media a week ago, when he apologized again the affair this summer – but declined to answer additional questions. He then said, “I’ve said what I’m going to say about it.”
For North Carolina Democrats, the affair has been difficult.
In late September, Cunningham had been promoted as a special guest for a get-out-the-vote rally this week for North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. But in a subsequent promotion for the event, he had been swapped for actress Rosario Dawson.
The campaign says Cunningham and Beasley recently taped a radio show together and there is no problem.
Cunningham appears to be trying to hang on until November 3, said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina.
“It’s almost as though Cal Cunningham has decided to call Dean Smith and find Phil Ford and see if he can run the Four Corners until this thing is over,” Cooper said, referring to the legendary North Carolina basketball coach’s strategy of spacing his players far apart and passing the ball to run out the clock. “Clearly his strategy is to lay low. He’s got a small but fairly durable lead in the polls.”
Cunningham does lead in the polls, including those taken after he apologized for the affair. A New York Times/Sienna College poll released Wednesday shows Cunningham ahead by four percentage points. But he only has 41% of the vote to Republican Thom Tillis’ 37%.
“A small but durable lead can quickly become a disappearing lead with a large number of undecided voters,” he said.
A Monmouth University poll released earlier this week was better for Cunningham, with him leading 48% to Tillis’ 44%.
Trying to change the race, Tillis is going all in on the affair, even though the leader of the Republican Party - President Trump - has had affairs himself.
The Tillis campaign – along with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate Leadership Fund and American Crossroads – are spending $11.2 million on TV ads this week. Almost all are criticizing Cunningham over the affair.
The Cunningham campaign rejects the idea that the candidate is laying low. Campaign spokesman Aaron Simpson says, “Cal continues to meet voters virtually and in-person in the final stretch, just as he has throughout the campaign.”
Before the affair, Cunningham did not hold in-person campaign events because of the pandemic. Since last week’s virtual news conference, he has held a handful of in-person events, such as visiting an early voting site in Fuquay Varina and marking Indigenous Peoples Day in Mebane.
The campaign did not widely advertise those events to the media.
This was supposed to be Harris’ second event in North Carolina, after last month visiting Shaw College in Raleigh, a historically black college. Biden came to Charlotte in September for a Black economic summit.
Cunningham did not attend those events.
But he is willing to make the race a national event. In a fundraising email this week, Cunningham’s pitch to voters that a donation to his campaign would “help end Mitch McConnell’s grip on power in Washington.”