Congressman Ted Budd just finished his second-best week of the primary election with a wave of public opinion surveys showing him surging in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate and a high-profile rally with former President Trump.

Then to top it off, Budd received the endorsement of the most popular state-based Republican, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

“I throw all of my weight and all of my support behind Rep. Ted Budd, who is going to be the next senator from North Carolina,” Robinson said at the Saturday rally in Johnston County. “Back in 2018 when I met Congressman Budd, he stood as one of the people I admired most in this because he was an individual who never compromised his beliefs. He stood strong as a conservative, and he’s a strong Christian.”

“In this Senate race that we have today, our party needs to come together,” Robinson said. “We need to join together and make sure that we could send a strong, principled conservative candidate to Washington, that we could push him through this primary and blast him past his Democratic opponent in the general election.”

The best week for Budd came 10 months ago, when Donald Trump rocked the 2021 N.C. Republican Party State Convention by giving Budd a ringing endorsement.

Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC, speaks at the Save America rally on April 9, 2022 in Selma, N.C.
Rep. Ted Budd, R-13th District, speaks at the Save America rally on April 9 in Selma.

But perhaps this past week was even bigger. The political capital of the Trump endorsement began to pay dividends. Budd has surged to a double-digit lead in several polls and will now have a surge of momentum with the Robinson endorsement.

That Trump endorsement introduced Budd to Republican voters in the Tar Heel State but most importantly opened the door to millions in paid advertising from outside groups aligned with Trump.

Budd now leads the pack in the Republican primary for the open U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina, according to a new Civitas Poll of likely GOP voters released Thursday, April 7.

Budd won 32% support, compared to 21% support for former Gov. Pat McCrory and 7% for former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. Marjorie Eastman came in fourth with 1% support. Thirty-nine percent of the electorate remains undecided.

On an abbreviated ballot that only shows the top four contenders, each candidate performed slightly better: Budd (34%), McCrory (24%), Walker (10%), and Eastman (3%). Thirty percent were undecided.

The poll is a reversal from results in January, when McCrory led Budd, 24% to 19%.

Big spending in the primary

Budd’s rise in the polls comes after an unprecedented multimillion-dollar spending spree from Club for Growth Action, an independent political spending organization that brands itself as dedicated to defeating big-government politicians and replacing them with pro-growth, limited-government conservatives. The organization is focusing on electing Trump-backed candidates in primary contests including Budd, Congressman Madison Cawthorn, R-11th District, and 13th Congressional District candidate Bo Hines.

The “club,” as it is known in political circles, spent $4 million in the early months of the campaign and announced in the middle of March that it would spend an additional $10 million to support Budd in the final eight weeks of the primary campaign.

A spokesman for Club for Growth Action told WRAL last week the group has already spent $8.4 million since the start of the election cycle to bolster Budd’s prospects. The organization plans to spend at least $5.6 million more by the May 17 primary.

The club’s television ads have plastered Trump’s Budd endorsement in local broadcast newscasts, cable television re-runs, and sports programs. Other ads have blistered McCrory as an Obama/Biden-loving and Trump-hating liberal. While McCrory’s campaign has run an advertisement attacking Budd for comments on Russia, Club for Growth Action efforts to boost Budd and attack McCrory have dwarfed all other political spending more than 10-fold.

While Civitas and other polls show that a Trump endorsement is extremely helpful in GOP primaries, it is the massive outside spending that is by far the most pivotal aspect of the race. Trump’s endorsement would not have helped much if there were limited funds to tell voters about it or introduce them to Budd, who was largely unknown outside of his Triad-area congressional district.

Walker has complained for months about the enormous influence of one special interest group in the race, tweeting:

“I don’t remember winning any polls, but I’ve never lost a race, a forum, or a debate. It’s sad that Ted Budd has bailed on another debate refusing to show up after committing. $14 million dollars of DC dark money can buy a lot. Time will tell if it can buy a Senate primary.”

McCrory joined in, tweeting:

“Club for Growth spending millions. I’m still here. Carolina can’t be bought.”

Other polls taken recently show similar results and offer more encouraging news to Budd.

A CBS 17/The Hill/Emerson College poll found that Budd has the support of 38% of likely voters on May 17 and would be favored in a head-to-head election against likely Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley in November.

Budd’s margin in this particular poll was 16 percentage points over McCrory (22%), with Walker polling third at about 9%. The Emerson poll was conducted April 2-4 and sampled 1,047 registered voters in North Carolina for the general election and 508 for the Republican primary.

Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, noted, “Budd and McCrory are evenly split with 31% apiece among suburban voters; however, rural voters break for Budd 42% to McCrory’s 11%.”

Among Republican primary voters, 59% say Trump’s endorsement makes them more likely to vote for a candidate.

“Half of undecided voters in the Republican primary say Trump’s endorsement of a candidate makes them more likely to support a candidate,” Kimball said.

The Civitas Poll also showed the power of Trump’s influence.

  • 55% of voters are more likely to vote for a Trump-endorsed Senate candidate (15% less likely).
  • 83% of primary voters want a Senate candidate who shares Trump’s issue agenda, but 42% want someone similar in tone and style and 42% want someone different in tone and style. Only 11% want someone who is entirely different than Trump. ​

General election survey concerning for McCrory

The McCrory campaign has focused on McCrory’s “electability” in November. However, according to the Emerson Poll, Budd would defeat Democrat Cheri Beasley 50%-43%. Walker would also be a slight general election favorite, with 47% to Beasley’s 42%.

But Beasley would have a slight edge over McCrory, 43% to 41%, with 16% undecided.

Some observations:

There are still six weeks to go, and the race is not over. Clearly one would rather be Budd than anyone else in the race. The McCrory campaign is still hard at work. Walker continues to rally Christian conservatives across the state. Anything can still happen. However, the candidates trailing Budd have to change things, and change things in a hurry, to catch up.

The Budd campaign tells Carolina Journal they are not popping any champagne corks yet. They are focused on the last six weeks, a significant ground operation, and of course the Trump rally

Budd and McCrory have roughly raised the same amount of money when it comes to “hard-dollar” candidate donations. However, it is the independent expenditures from Club for Growth Action and others that make a huge difference. That lopsided advantage for Budd will continue unless other outside groups decide to defend and advocate for McCrory and/or Walker.

Ironically, Budd also benefits from the shear collapse of Biden approval in North Carolina. The Emerson poll of registered voters has Biden with a job approval of 44% in North Carolina, while 52% disapprove of the job he is doing. Other polls of likely voters have shown Biden in even worse shape. It is a difficult argument to make that any GOP nominee can’t win in November with the current political environment. It appears that the worse Biden is doing, the more Trump-supporting candidates are rising.