Politics & Government

One Tillis challenger emerges as the favorite of Democratic leaders and donors

North Carolina Democrat Cal Cunningham appears to be consolidating support in his U.S. Senate bid, rolling out dozens of endorsements and announcing a big fundraising haul. It’s enough momentum that one other candidate has abandoned his bid for the nomination.

Cunningham has been endorsed by former Sen. Kay Hagan, who lost her 2014 re-election bid to Republican Thom Tillis. In his bid to take on Tillis, Cunningham — a military veteran and former state lawmaker who ran for the Senate in 2010 but lost in the primary — has been backed by Democrats from all over the state, including Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger, four members of the Raleigh city council and two former North Carolina Democratic Party chairs.

Democratic candidate Eric Mansfield, who announced his candidacy on June 18, has already dropped out of the race. State Sen. Erica Smith of Northampton County, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller and Durham businessman Steven Williams are also seeking the Democratic nomination.

Fuller raised less than $24,000 in the first quarter of 2019 and just more than $7,000 in the second quarter of the year, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Reports showing details of most other candidates’ second-quarter fundraising weren’t yet posted Monday on the FEC’s website, but Smith raised less than $22,000 in the first quarter.

The Cunningham campaign announced Monday that it raised more than $520,000 in the two weeks from his June 17 official announcement until the July 1 reporting deadline. The campaign has more than $700,000 cash on hand, which includes a $200,000 loan from Cunningham to the campaign.

“I’ve been humbled by the strong support and deeply moved by the positive response from folks in every corner of North Carolina who agree we need new leadership,” Cunningham said in a statement. “These early resources will help us hit the ground running as we work to win this race and move North Carolina forward.”

Tillis raised $1.16 million in the first quarter of 2019, a figure that trailed many other GOP senators who could face tough re-election campaigns in 2020. Raleigh businessman and author Garland Tucker III and Pitt County farmer Sandy Smith are also running for the 2020 Republican nomination.

Tillis, who has faced some criticism from Republicans over his initial stance on an emergency declaration for border funding, won the endorsement of President Donald Trump late last month. Tillis at first said Trump declaring an emergency to free up money for a border wall would set a bad precedent, and said he would support an effort to block it — but ended up voting against the effort.

State Senate leader Phil Berger endorsed Tillis on Monday.

Mansfield, a physician, announced Friday that he was no longer pursuing the nomination, citing the difficulties in winding down his medical practices, attending to his family and raising the resources needed to mount a serious campaign.

“As far as Democrats are concerned, the objective has to been to see who is able to both consolidate support and raise meaningful money,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with Cook Political Report. “Cunningham seems to be on his way to doing both.

“According to my inbox, the campaign has done a lot of online fundraising. The question now is whether it’s enough to earn the (Democratic Senate Campaign Committee’s) endorsement or whether they will let this play out for another quarter.”

Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.