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Donald Trump-backed U.S. Rep. Ted Budd favorite for GOP nod in Senate primary
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RALEIGH (CFP) — Voters across North Carolina will pick their nominees Tuesday for a pivotal U.S. Senate race that could determine party control, and voters in the western panhandle will decide if Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s political career gets derailed after a string of controversies and bad headlines.
Nominees will also be selected for U.S. House seats being contested under new maps. Three open seats have drawn crowded fields, which include American Idol finalist Clay Aiken – making his second run for Congress — and former Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Elmers, who is trying to make a comeback after losing her seat in 2016.
Local and legislative seats are also up Tuesday; statewide offices are not on the ballot this year.
Polls for in-person voting open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.
The Senate race features a heated 14-candidate Republican contest expected to come down to a race between U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and former governor Pat McCrory. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr, is retiring.
Budd has been vocally backed by Donald Trump, who came to the Tar Heel State to campaign for him. Under state law, he only needs 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff, and recent polling indicates he’s likely to clear that threshold.
Eleven Democrats are running for their party’s nomination. Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley – who has raised nearly $10 million for the race – is the prohibitive favorite.
North Carolina is considered as one of the Democrats’ prime pick-up opportunities in the fall, which will make the likely race between Budd and Beasley a high-decibel, high-spending affair that gets outsized national attention.
In the state’s 11th U.S. House district, which takes in 15 counties in the western end of the state, Cawthorn – elected to office in 2020 at just 25 — is battling for his political life against seven Republican challengers and the active opposition of state GOP leaders, including U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.
Cawthorn has been enmeshed in a bevy of controversy and questionable behavior: He was caught twice trying to take a gun through airport security, cited twice for driving with a revoked license, and infurated colleagues by musing in a podcast that he had been invited to orgies and witnessed cocaine use.
He also raised eyebrows by dismissing of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “thug” and has been featured in a photo wearing women’s lingerie and in a video naked in bed with a male friend.
He also made a political blunder by abandoning the 11th District to run in a neighboring district, then reversing course after a state court drew a new map that obliterated his new district.
However, Cawthorn has strong name recognition, a fervent following in the MAGA base and, perhaps most importantly, the backing of Trump – which could be enough to clear the 30% threshold and avoid a runoff.
Here is a look at some other U.S. House races on the ballot Tuesday.
1st District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield gave up this seat in eastern North Carolina after Republican state legislators made the seat more Republican, setting off a scramble in both parties. Although the state Supreme Court later reserved some of those changes, there are still four Democrats and eight Republicans in the race.
Among the Democrats are State Senator Don Davis and former State Senator Erica Smith, who got out of the U.S. Senate race to run here instead. On the Republican side, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson and Sandy Smith, a farmer and businesswoman from Nash County, have both raised more than $1 million for the race.
4th District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price is retiring in this district, which includes Durham and Chapel Hill, drawing a field of eight Democrats to succeed him, including Aiken, who contested a Raleigh-area district in 2014. Leading the field are State Senator Valerie Foushee from Chapel Hill and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman to win political office in North Carolina.
6th District: Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning is trying to hang on to this seat, which became more Republican under the final court-drawn map. Seven Republicans are vying to take her on; the GOP fundraising leader is Christian Castelli, a businessman and former U.S. Army Special Forces officer from Randolph County.
13th District: This newly configured, Republican-leaning district, centered in suburban Raleigh, has drawn eight Republicans, including Ellmers, and five Democrats. Trump waded into this district to endorse Bo Hines, a 26-year-old political newcomer and former college football star who did not live in the district before running here, a move that angered local Republicans.
14th District: This newly configured swing district in metro Charlotte drew two challengers from each party. Democratic State Senator Jeff Jackson exited the U.S. Senate race to run here and is likely to face Republican Pat Harrington, a Green Beret and firearms dealer.
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Committee supporting U.S. Rep. Mark Walker got $150,000 donation from indicted donor as he was being enlisted to lobby on donor’s behalf
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Robin Hayes, a former congressman who chairs the North Carolina Republican Party, and the state’s top political donor have been indicted in what federal prosecutors allege was a “brazen” scheme to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with $2 million disguised as campaign contributions.
The indictment, unsealed April 2, charges Hayes with wire fraud, bribery and three counts of lying to the FBI. Also charged with wire fraud and bribery in the case is Greg E. Lindberg, 48, a Durham businessman who federal prosecutors allege initiated the scheme to bribe Causey in order to get more favorable treatment from insurance regulators for one of his companies.
The indictment of Lindberg is likely to reverberate through state Republican politics. He has contributed generously to various GOP groups and political committees supporting Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who appears to have been mentioned in the indictment but was not accused of any crime.
Also charged were John D. Gray, 68, from Chapel Hill, a consultant working for Lindberg, and John V. Palermo, Jr., 63, from Pittsboro, an employee at one of Lindberg’s companies and former GOP chair in Chatham County.
Causey, who notified federal law enforcement of the bribery attempt and cooperated with investigators, was not charged.
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said the men had engaged in a “brazen bribery scheme in which Greg Lindberg and his co-conspirators allegedly offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg’s business interests.”
Prosecutors allege that Hayes agreed to use the state GOP to funnel Lindberg’s money to Causey’s campaign to keep the source from becoming public, and then lied to FBI agents when he was asked about the contributions and his contacts with Causey on Lindberg’s behalf.
Also mentioned in the indictment, but not accused of wrongdoing, is an unnamed “Public Official A,” who was allegedly enlisted to lobby Causey on Lindberg’s behalf after Lindberg donated $150,000 to a political committee supporting him.
Citing Federal Election Commission records, Politico identified “Public Official A” as Walker, from Greensboro, a member of the House Republican leadership.
FEC records show that Lundberg made a $150,000 contribution to the Mark Walker Victory Committee, which was dated Feb. 17, 2018. Lundberg was the first contributor to the committee, which was registered on Feb. 13, 2018. His contribution was 10 times the amount of any other donor and accounted for about one-fourth of all of the money taken in by the fund during 2018.
The indictment said that on Feb. 5, 2018, Gray contacted “Public Official A” to lobby Causey on behalf of Lindberg, who wanted the insurance commissioner to remove a deputy he felt was “maliciously” hurting his reputation and replace her with Palermo.
After Gray reported his conversation with Public Official A to Lindberg, he donated $150,000 to a political committee supporting that official, according to the indictment. Two days later, the official called Causey to “explain that Lindberg was doing good things for North Carolina business,” according to the indictment.
Responding to the Politico report, Walker’s office released a statement saying he was not a target of the investigation, has not been accused of any wrongdoing and that he had cooperated with federal prosecutors investigating the case.
The statement also noted the Lindberg has also donated money to Democratic officials and that the victory fund was controlled by the Republican National Committee.
Hayes, 73, who served in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2009 and has chaired the state GOP since 2016, had announced on the day before the indictment was unsealed that he would not seek re-election as state chair in June.
His attorney issued a statement saying Hayes “steadfastly denies the allegations made against him” and is looking forward to clearing his name.
In a statement, the state GOP’s legal counsel, Josh Howard, said the party has been “cooperating with the investigation for several months, including staff members providing statements and responding to various document requests” and “remains fully operational and focused on its mission at hand.”
Lindberg’s attorney, Anne Tompkins, told the McClatchey newspapers that his client was innocent of the charges and was also looking forward to his day in court.
The Raleigh News & Observer had previously reported that Lindberg had become the largest political donor in the state over the last two years, contributing more than $3 million to candidates from both parties since 2016. Most of those contributions were made to political committees and political parties instead of directly to candidates, whose donations are capped.
About half of that money went to groups supporting Forest, who is expected to run for governor in 2020, the newspaper reported.