With just six weeks to go until election day, former President Donald Trump will hold a rally in Wilmington Friday for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd.

The gates are slated to open at 2 p.m. at the Aero Center at Wilmington International Airport, with Trump slated to speak at 7 p.m. Joining Trump for the rally are Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, 7th District U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley, and Bo Hines, the Republican nominee for U.S. House in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District.

Previous Save America rallies over the years have drawn thousands of North Carolinians, donned in red. white, and blue “America First” garb, and this evening should be no exception. Roads around Wilmington are already closed, and traffic is redirected across the area as the parking lots for the rally open.

Budd has leaned into Trump’s endorsement from the beginning, at the NCGOP convention in 2021.

“Ted Budd has consistently supported America First polices that protect and promote American jobs as the top priority. Why would anyone back away from that?” said campaign adviser Jonathan Felts in campaign material promoting an ad featuring the former president.

As Election Day bears down, Budd is wrapping up a 100-county tour of the state and racking up endorsements from law enforcement groups, including the National Border Patrol Council. Rather than moving his messaging to the middle, as his opponent Cheri Beasley has over the last few months, Budd has embraced Trump and the national Republican messages of highlighting illegal crossings at the nation’s Southern border, the epidemic of fentanyl poisonings, inflation, energy policy, and sales of American battery technology to China.

Rep. Tedd Budd speaks at a Save America rally on April 9, 2022, in Selma. Photo by Tim Robbins, Carolina Journal

“President Donald Trump’s commitment to protecting and promoting American jobs grew our economy and created more and better opportunities for all Americans,” Budd said. “President Trump carried North Carolina twice, and Amy Kate and I are thrilled he’s heading back to our great state to get folks fired up as our campaign accelerates into the final stretch. And, in the spirit of bipartisanship, we would also welcome Joe Biden to come campaign early and often for Cheri Beasley and personally, and publicly, thank her for supporting his disastrous economic policies.”

Embracing the former president is a calculated risk. Trump won North Carolina twice, in 2016 and 2020, but a growing unaffiliated voter population in the state signals votes that may be either up for grabs, or more North Carolinians who consider themselves middle of the political road. However, in the May 17 primary, more unaffiliated voters took a Republican ballot than a Democrat one, and Budd won handily in a four-way primary with Trump’s endorsement.

HIs general election opponent, Beasley, has not leaned into her core liberal voter base during the election, avoiding campaign stops that featured Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and distancing herself from a fundraising committee she once shared with Rep. Cori Bush, R-Missouri, a vocal “defund the police” proponent. Beasley has focused her campaign on her time as a public defender and N.C. Supreme Court justice, tapping into concerns among Democrats and some moderate voters about abortion restrictions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Budd, on the other hand, recently signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill in the U.S. House that would end abortion nationwide after 13 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

The Budd/Beasley race has tightened in recent weeks, but in a recent Emerson poll, released on Tuesday, Budd had edged ahead, now leading Beasley 46% to 43%, with 9% undecided.