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Coronavirus, sexual texts upend North Carolina U.S. Senate race

Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis tests positive; Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham apologizes for racy text messages

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — A month before election day, the big money, high octane race for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina has been upended by a positive coronavirus test and a sexting scandal.

Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis announced Friday that he has been tested positive for the coronavirus, which will force him off the campaign trail for at least 10 days, although he remains asymptomatic.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham

Hours later, the campaign of his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, a married father of two, confirmed that he was the author of suggestive text messages exchanged with a female public relations consultant from California that indicated he was engaged in an ongoing extramarital affair.

“I have hurt my family, disappointed my friends, and am deeply sorry,” Cunningham said in a statement. “The first step in repairing those relationships is taking complete responsibility, which I do.”

Cunningham indicated that he would stay in the race, saying he was “grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state.”

What may further complicate the situation for Cunningham is that he is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, and extramarital affairs violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Prior to Friday, Cunningham had a consistent lead in the polls, and his campaign had just announced that it had raised a staggering $28.3 million in the third quarter, shattering a record for the largest fundraising quarter by a Senate candidate in state history.

Tillis’s positive coronavirus test will also force Cunningham to undergo testing because the two men met in a debate Thursday night, during which they were socially distanced but did not wear masks.

The North Carolina race is key to Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate from Republicans. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a statement saying it was standing behind Cunningham.

The undated texts between Cunningham and Arlene Guzman Todd were first revealed on the conservative news website NationalFile.com. The site did not explain how the texts were obtained, attributing information to a friend of Todd’s who spoke with one of its sources.

In the texts, the two talk about arranging a meeting, with Todd saying at one point that “the only thing I want on my to do list is you” and Cunningham saying “I’ve had the most amazing dreams of our time together.”

Cunningham also texted Todd that he was “nervous about the next 100 days,” which, if a reference to the election, would put the date of the text in late July.

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