The contest for U.S. Senate in North Carolina features a stark contrast in personalities. In temperament, background, and ideological intensity, Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd, each carrying their respective partisan banner, are dramatically different people. Their respective profiles reveal much about what each party values in 2022. And this gaping divide will play out in the race to win suburban votes.
Cheri Beasley is one of the most accomplished women in North Carolina. First elected to the state judiciary over a decade ago, Beasley served as the first Black woman chief justice after being appointed to that position by Governor Roy Cooper. She ran tens of thousands of votes ahead of Joe Biden in the 2020 elections, nearly retaining her seat in a year in which Democrats performed poorly in North Carolina. Her demeanor is judicious and judicial, reflective of years of leadership in the courts. She is careful, restrained, and dignified. Little about her could be described as “folksy”–an epithet that tends only to be bestowed upon the white and the rural.
Enter Ted Budd. If there is a good ol’ boy in North Carolina politics, it’s the gun shop owner from the semi-rural exurban county of Davie, in the ultra-Republican western Piedmont. He owned a gun store and received the endorsement of the God-Emperor of Red America. His public image drips with hyper-masculinity, using violent rhetoric like “crusher” and carrying guns in his campaign advertisement. In fact, he owns a gun store, making him a gun profiteer, and likes to display barbed wire and border walls. Everything about this man screams testosterone, perhaps a key reason why he won the Republican nomination by 33 points. (Though his victory owed primarily to massive spending by the Club for Growth.)
A key axis on which the contrast turns, then, is gender. Beasley is among the most politically successful women in recent North Carolina history, and Ted Budd reflects the frat-boy culture that has taken over his party as it became more and more identified with toxic masculinity. Surely, this Battle of the Sexes will play out to at least some degree as the campaign goes forward. It’s long been observed that female voters’ decisions are more fluid from year to year than their male counterparts’ tend to be. If the swing vote is largely female, Beasley should have a natural affinity with many of the people who will choose North Carolina’s next senator.
It may not be enough. North Carolina leans a little bit Republican, and more importantly, the state is extremely polarized, so the Republicans’ small default advantage tends to carry the day in most elections. But the issue landscape is shifting toward a tableau that should push moderate women to the left. In a year when the male-dominated Republican Party is banning abortion and restricting women’s rights, the women’s electorate may be primed to retaliate against the GOP’s institutional misogyny. Ted Budd remains the favorite in North Carolina. But don’t count out the power of sisterhood.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.