Since Republicans first redrew North Carolina’s congressional maps in 2012, the state’s U.S. House delegation has bristled with Trumpists and proto-Trumpists. Ted Budd lands emphatically in that group. The gun store owner-turned-congressman has built an identity as a conservative warrior and a favorite of right-wing groups like the Club for Growth. Now, five years after arriving on the political scene, Budd is likely to enter N.C.’s U.S. Senate race.
Budd will be a strong contender for the ultra-conservative vote in this race. In a North Carolina GOP primary, that’s fertile ground to target. Along with evangelicals, very conservative voters make up the largest portion of the Republican primary electorate. Distributed in Budd’s own western Piedmont region, right-wing voters will be the key prize targeted by every Republican candidate.
Political geography provides both a strength and a challenge for Ted Budd. On the positive side, Budd’s congressional district encompasses some of the richest troves of GOP voters in the state. His stomping ground extends from suburban Winston-Salem, to the rock-ribbed-conservative rural western Piedmont, to the growing and still quite conservative Charlotte exurbs. He’ll benefit from a history of building relationships with voters and grassroots leaders in this very conservative region.
But being from the Triad, Budd will face competition for the votes of what has traditionally been his base. Already another Triad Republican, Mark Walker, has made the race. If one or the other cuts into his rival’s base, a candidate from elsewhere in the state could gain an advantage. Further, Walker is expected to siphon off many of the evangelical voters who are so strong in the rural parts of the state. Budd will have to lean on the conservative bent of these and other voters if he is to win the nomination.
One major positive for Budd is that he will have money. The fiscally conservative Club for Growth more or less won his first primary for him by spending $500,000 on his behalf. Though they continue to hem and haw about the remote possibility of a Lara Trump run, Club for Growth officials have indicated that they will back Ted Budd should he run for Senate. That alone will position him on an even footing with other top-tier candidates in the race.
In the general election, Budd would be a risky and fascinating case study for Republicans. For years, ultra-conservatives like Jesse Helms, John East, and Lauch Faircloth won Senate elections in North Carolina. But that began to change in the early 2000’s as the state urbanized and Republicans opted for softer conservatives for their U.S. Senate candidates. If Budd wins the nomination, state politics watchers will get to see whether an arch conservative can still win a Senate seat in the state. Given that Donald Trump carried North Carolina twice, that seems a distinct possibility.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.