WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Ted Budd defeated Democrat Cheri Beasley in North Carolina’s competitive Senate race Tuesday, NBC News projects, letting Republicans retain a seat that will be vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Burr.
The race flew largely under the radar, with more colorful candidates in other states capturing headlines, even as polls showed the contest neck-and-neck. Both parties spent heavily in the race, though North Carolina Democrats accused the national party of abandoning Beasley in a tight election.
Helped along by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who called Budd “rock-solid” at a September rally in Wilmington, Budd remained favored going into Election Day. He had previously defeated former Gov. Pat McCrory in a contentious Republican primary.
Budd made a point of thanking Trump and his family in his victory speech just before midnight on Tuesday. He also thanked his opponent "for her service to our state and running a spirited race." He said he had spoken on the phone with Beasley, who conceded.
But Budd also celebrated the win as a rejection of President Joe Biden's policies.
"I think we sounded a loud and clear message to Washington D.C. tonight," he said. "Here’s what you told them: you said you’d had enough of policies that made your lives worse. You’re sick of paying too much at the grocery store and at the gas pump. You’re tired of feeling unsafe when you walk the streets. You’re tired of being attacked just because you want to know what your kids are being taught at school."
Budd, who owns a gun store and served three terms in Congress, is a staunch conservative. Beasley labeled him an “election denier” for voting against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential contest Trump lost, but his style and rhetoric are relatively low-key compared to some higher-profile GOP Senate candidates.
Beasley told her supporters that she encouraged her opponent “to stand in the tradition of our state to be an independent leader who puts North Carolina first” when she spoke to him over the phone. “And I hope he will,” she added.
“I am so proud of the race that we ran” Beasley said. “I am proud that all along we stayed true to our mission that this race would be about the people and not politics. And even when others didn’t, we believed in North Carolina and I still do. This isn’t the outcome that we wanted, but we have made history in North Carolina and tonight I am thinking of all those who blazed trails before me.”
Beasley, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, would have been the first Black senator from North Carolina. Her allies used media interviews to publicly plead for more support, as national Democrats did not focus on her campaign as much as other Senate hopefuls.
But the Democratic hopeful suffered as economic pessimism and Biden's unpopularity buoyed Budd and dragged her down. NBC News exit polls showed that most North Carolina voters rated national economic conditions as not good or poor. A vast majority, 76%, said that inflation had caused their household at least a moderate financial hardship in the last year.
Past contests have made national Democrats wary of North Carolina, however. Considered a purple state, it has disappointed the party since former President Barack Obama first gave them hope of turning it blue when he won it in 2008.
Since then, Democratic presidential and Senate candidates have all failed to win the state even after pouring millions into it, though it has twice elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
North Carolina’s 2020 Senate race was the most expensive in history at the time, but Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham lost — and nearly cost his party the Senate majority — after it was revealed he had had an extramarital affair.