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Has abortion ruling given Beasley a lift? New poll shows tied race with Budd

Cheri Beasley spoke to voters in Wadesboro last week.
Steve Harrison/WFAE
Cheri Beasley spoke to voters in Wadesboro last week.

Throughout much of the race for an open U.S. Senate seat, Cheri Beasley’s campaign events have been staid.

She would give a speech. A modest crowd would politely clap.

But as the election draws closer — and the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade energizes some Democrats — her supporters are dialed in.

At a campaign last week at the Lady Bug Family restaurant in Wadesboro, a crowd of about 150 people filled the back room.

One woman yelled: “Stir up some good trouble, Cheri! Stir up that good trouble in Washington!”

The crowd cheered.

If elected, Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, would make history as the first Black Senator from the state.

And that resonated at her stop in Anson County, where a little more than half of the residents are Black.

Beasley did not mention abortion at first during her opening 15-minute speech. But during a question and answer with the audience, she worked it in. She said her opponent, Republican Congressman Ted Budd, wants a total ban.

“It’s Ted Budd who believes in an absolute ban on abortion — even in the case of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s health,” Beasley said. “He voted against the contraception legislation.”

She continued: “And I know we were all taught that actions speak louder than words. And he just doesn’t speak for us. Because this Budd is not for you.”

The crowd again cheered.

Democrats doing better in recent elections

In June, with inflation surging, Republicans flipped a south Texas House seatthey had never won. At the time, that special election seemed to portend a Red Wave in the fall.

Then came the court’s ruling in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Two weeks ago, Kansas voters overwhelmingly kept abortion rightsin their state constitution.

In Washington state’s open primary for U.S. Senate, Democratic incumbent Patty Murray received the same share of the vote she did in 2016 — another sign that Democrats are holding their own.

And in a special election for a House seat in southern Minnesota, the Republican candidate won by only four percentage pointsin a district that Donald Trump won by 10 points in 2020.

“We are starting to see signs here and there of Democratic enthusiasm,” said J. Miles Coleman with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

He said the Dobbs decision could give a boost to Democrats everywhere, including Beasley.

In an interview after her Wadesboro event, Beasley said “Dobbs is important. What we have seen is anger and outrage and fear for a lot of people in North Carolina.”

She noted that 65% of North Carolinians and people nationwide support “reproductive freedom.”

Polls show most don’t want an abortion ban

Nationwide, there’s strong support for abortion rights.

In North Carolina, a WRAL poll from June showed 45% of residents said Roe should not be overturned while 30% said it should.

However, that same poll found that 57% of voters would support abortion restrictions at 20 weeks. That’s where North Carolina’s law now stands — after a federal judge ruled Wednesday that North Carolina’s 20-week ban could go into effect.

Across that nation, about 1% of abortions take place after 21 weeks.

Budd campaign says he has “always been transparent that he’s Pro-Life.”

His campaign criticized Beasley and said she supports abortion rights near the end of a full-term pregnancy, calling her position “barbaric.”

Republicans nationwide have criticized Democrats for not supporting restrictions on late-term abortions, even if they are extremely rare and performed to protect the life of the mother or if the fetus is not viable.

Beasley’s campaign responded by saying she supports the protections in Roe vs. Wade. It added that such a "decision should be made between a woman and her doctor, without government interference."

Beasley’s campaign has released two commercials on abortion. The Senate Majority Fund political action committee also aired a commercial after Dobbs.

“It happened,” a woman’s voice says. “The Supreme Court has taken away a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. And here’s why Ted Budd stands on the issue. No spin. Just facts. Budd wants abortion outlawed, with no exceptions for rape and incest.”

That ad also says Budd’s proposed legislation could “criminalize abortion for women.” But the bill states that “nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.” It does not make an exemption for doctors.

Strong fundraising, but national Democrats aren’t yet committed

Beasley’s fundraising has been strong. In the second quarter, she Beasley raised $7.4 million — more than three times as much as Budd.

But so far, national Democratic groups haven’t reserved ad buys for the fall.

In a Republican-leaning year, Washington Democrats may see North Carolina as out of reach, said Chris Hartline with the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“They are spending everywhere except North Carolina,” Hartline said. “And I think it’s odd to me. They’ve been spending heavily in every other swing state already, and even been spending in places like Colorado and Washington. So the fact that they haven’t spent hardly anything reflects to me that I don’t think they can win there.”

He said Democrats have received a bump after Dobbs. But he said he thinks the “political environment will swing back.”

A poll released Thursday by the conservative John Locke Foundation found Beasley and Budd tied with each having 42.3% of the vote, with 12.6% undecided. Previous polls had shown Budd slightly ahead.

Can Beasley win back rural voters?

In recent elections, Democratic candidates have extended their leads in urban counties in North Carolina — but they’ve done increasingly worse in rural ones.

In 2012, Barack Obama won 62% of the vote in Anson. Joe Biden won just 52% two years ago.

In Wadesboro, Beasley’s appealed to voters who feel left behind.

“The reality is there were times when there was industry and manufacturing and mills right here in these communities,” she said. “Certainly industries are coming to North Carolina and they tend to do to Charlotte and Raleigh. But they miss out on talent in our rural communities, and that’s got to change.”

Budd’s campaign has been lower-profile. He rarely does media interviews or public events.

He was in Charlotte Saturday where he met with the Fraternal Order of Police after receiving the endorsement of the North Carolina Troopers Association.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.