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Cunningham, Tillis facing adversity in U.S. Senate race

Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 8:37 PM EDT
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NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) - The United States Senate race in North Carolina has gained increased attention over the past several days, with Senator Thom Tillis and challenger Cal Cunningham facing adversity ahead of next month’s election.

While hundreds of thousands of voters in our state have already submitted their absentee ballots, now, one candidate is among the latest leaders to fall victim to the pandemic, the other finds himself in the middle of a personal scandal.

But at least one Eastern Carolina expert doubts the impact those challenges will have on voter’s ballots. “9 out of 10 Republicans vote Republican, 9 out of 10 Democrats vote Democrat,” says Political Science expert Dr. Peter Francia from East Carolina University. The numbers mean some believe most Democrats will stick by challenger Cal Cunningham despite admitting to a sexting scandal over the weekend.

In the text messages Cunningham shared with public relations strategist Arlene Guzman Todd, was an exchange in which he called Guzman Todd “historically sexy,” and told her, “I kiss back.” Guzman Todd also told Cunningham the only thing she wanted on her “to-do list” was Cunningham, who replied, “that sounds so hot and so fun!” Though Cunningham released a statement apologizing to family and friends and taking responsibility for his actions, experts expect Tillis to use the scandal to further a specific campaign strategy.

“This scandal in many respects reinforces that line of attack about Cal Cunningham’s honesty,” Francia explains. But Tillis is facing his adversity after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday. “It probably doesn’t have much impact on the race. It could generate some sympathy for the Senator, on the other hand, it does take him off the campaign trail,” Francia adds. ECU’s most recent poll last month revealed the two men tied with 44% of the vote each.

And even though experts don’t expect the new information to sway many voters' minds, even the 3-4% of undecided voters could significantly impact the vote. “In a very, very close, competitive race, a few points could be the difference between victory and defeat,” says Francia.

Experts believe Democrats will continue to highlight the Republican response to the pandemic in their campaigning, saying the race in North Carolina could go a long way in determining who will control the Senate after the election. Dr. Francia says they will have a new poll released on Tuesday. Their poll last month showed 9% of voters in the race still undecided.

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