early and often

Cheri Beasley’s Shot at History

Cheri Beasley. Photo: Cornell Watson/Redux

If Cheri Beasley wins in North Carolina next month, she would not only significantly help Democrats’ chances of holding on to the Senate, she would make history as the state’s first Black senator and be the only current Black woman senator in Washington.

If the weight of history was on her shoulders, Beasley didn’t show it during an interview on Thursday where she discussed her vision for North Carolina and what’s at stake in her campaign against her Republican opponent, Congressman Ted Budd. The two are locked in one of the tightest Senate races in the country, prompting questions about whether the national Democratic Party has spent enough on her in the hopes of flipping the open Republican Senate seat into their hands.

“Every election year is so important. If my late mother were here, who was granted the right to vote because of the Voting Rights Act, she would tell us that every election is the most important election of our lifetimes,” Beasley said. “The constitutional right for women to make choices for their own families without government interference is on the line. Democracy is on the line.”

Beasley started her career as a public defender in Cumberland County and served ten years as a state court judge. In 2008, she was elected to the state court of appeals, making her the first Black woman to win a statewide race without first being appointed by a governor. Four years later, she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the state’s Supreme Court and was elected to a full term in 2014. When the role of chief justice opened up in 2019, Democratic governor Roy Cooper appointed her to the position.

In 2020, she ran for a full term as chief justice but fell short by about 400 votes. After a short stint in private law practice, she announced her bid for the open Senate seat and won the Democratic primary in May. Other marquee elections commanded more national attention: North Carolina was not included in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s initial $33 million ad buy announced in April. Beasley says she decided to run because she’s seen how Washington — which has been under Democratic control for two years — hasn’t addressed the needs of North Carolinians.

“They want to know that the next senator is going to fight hard to lower costs. I mean, we live in the greatest country in the world and people are making decisions about how to pay for groceries or school supplies and high-price medicines,” Beasley said. “I know that so many people are working two or three jobs to take care of their families and they don’t want the pettiness of partisan politics and the wrangling that happens in Washington to impede progress in North Carolina. And that’s what I’m going to be working to change.”

Strong support from Black voters, who make up 22 percent of the state’s population, is crucial to Beasley’s chances in the race. It’s what propelled Barack Obama’s narrow victory in North Carolina in 2008 and nearly allowed Joe Biden to win the state against Donald Trump in 2020, when Black turnout increased to 4 percent over the prior election, according to data from the state’s Board of Elections. Beasley emphasized the special importance of Black women, who are often considered the bedrock of the Democratic Party.

“In fact, our North Carolina Democratic Party chair is an African American woman: Dr. Bobbie Richardson,” she said. “I’m excited about Black women being engaged and a diverse community of folks in North Carolina being engaged in this election cycle and really making this race a priority on the ballot and really fiercely defending our democracy and working hard to make sure that we are successful in this election because they know that the importance of this election is about today. It is about our seniors and it is also about our children and future generations.”

North Carolina has long been seen as a viable target for the Democratic Party as a purple Southern state that occasionally elected Democrats statewide. In addition to Obama’s win, 2008 was also the last time that a Democrat was elected to the Senate. Six years later though, Kay Hagan lost to Thom Tillis. In 2020, Democrats thought it was time for payback. Cal Cunningham, a moderate Democrat and former state senator, led Tillis in polls leading up to Election Day, but his campaign was damaged following reports he had an extramarital affair and he ultimately lost.

The last time that the Democratic Party had a Black nominee for Senate, Senator Jesse Helms attempted to stoke racial animus by accusing Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte, of backing racial quotas in a controversial ad campaign showing a pair of white hands crumpling a job-rejection letter. Gantt, who challenged Helms a second time, has endorsed Beasley’s candidacy.

This election has seen its own controversial ad, with a TV spot from the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm being removed from the airwaves after it erroneously claimed a judicial decision from Beasley resulted in the release of a man with child-pornography charges. An NRSC spokesman has said that he stands by the ad.

“Congressman Ted Budd and his allies are desperately working hard and spending millions to distort my judicial record and they started in the primary. What I know is that these politicians don’t work this hard and spend this kind of money unless they know that we can actually win this race,” Beasley said.

Beasley contrasts her career as a judge and adherence to the rule of law to that of Budd, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who was one of the 147 members of Congress who voted to object to the 2020 election results even after Trump’s supporters besieged the building.

“Congressman Budd is an election denier and he called the mob that stormed the Capitol that injured hundreds of law-enforcement officers, some of whom were beaten by the American flag, patriots,” she said. “And even after all of that violence, he voted against certifying the 2020 election. And even when pressed today about whether or not he will accept the election results in this election, he is reticent to say yes.”

Despite the race being virtually tied, the national Democratic Party apparatus has notably put less money into North Carolina compared to other battleground states like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, especially when compared to its rival party.

The Senate Leadership Fund, which has ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has reportedly spent $29 million on Budd’s behalf compared to $15 million by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Senate Majority PAC as of mid-October. (The PAC announced additional ad spending earlier this month.) By comparison, the 2020 race between Cunningham and Tillis was one of the most expensive that year with total spending of more than $271 million.

When asked if her party could be doing more to invest in this race, Beasley declined to criticize the support and instead expressed gratitude.

“I’m very thankful for the support we’re receiving in North Carolina and outside of North Carolina, and I believe that we’ve got the resources behind us that really will make the difference in this race,” she said. “This is a winnable race, and I’m really excited about where we are.”

Cheri Beasley’s Shot at History