Column: The little-known Senate race that could make a big difference for Democrats

If Democrats can retain control of just one house of Congress in November’s midterm elections, as many analysts have long predicted, it’s best if the house they favor is the Senate.

The Senate has power over a president’s nominees for justice. God forbid Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell gets another turn on blocking the selection of a Democratic President for the Federal Bank, ending President Biden’s efforts to balance right-wing bias in this third branch of government.

All year, Democrats have been in doubt of maintaining their majority in the House of Representatives, although some politicians inside and outside the party are beginning to sound upbeat amid a spate of positive dissent and the backlash against the Supreme Court’s repeal of abortion rights. The Senate, however, has been a different story all along: Democrats were cautiously confident — and Republicans restless — that they could hold and maybe even expand their 50 seats.

To that end, it’s fitting that one of the candidates who could help keep Democrats in power to confirm judges is former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley herself.

Beasley is up against North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd, a gun store owner who won the support of former President Trump last year. “A lot of you don’t know him well,” Trump said of Budd as he bestowed his blessing. “He’ll fight like hell.”

Fight like hell – exactly what Trump told the crowd on January 6, 2021. Indeed, following the Capitol shooting that day, Budd voted against confirming Biden’s election. He said the insurgents were “just patriots standing up.”

Trump was right about Budd’s reluctance. Beasley isn’t very well known either. More sensible than provocative, he was just a belligerent backbencher for Trump in Congress, overshadowed by braggarts like his North Carolina compatriot Madison Cawthorn. That’s one of the reasons why this competition didn’t get more national attention.

That should change. If Beasley wins, it would be a Democratic pickup: She and Budd are vying to replace retired GOP Sen. Richard M. Burr.

Beasley, who would be the only black woman in the Senate if elected, is a proven voter. She was first appointed to the state judiciary by a Democratic governor in 1999 and was then twice elected to the county court seat. In 2008, she won the state appeals court election, defeating a sitting judge.

Another Democratic governor appointed Beasley to a vacancy on the state Supreme Court in 2012, and two years later she won the statewide election for the seat. In 2019, current Democratic Governor Roy Cooper appointed her chief justice. While she lost re-election in 2020 by just 401 votes, Beasley still got about 11,000 more votes than Biden in North Carolina.

The bigger sources of Senate attention have been races in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and, to a lesser extent, New Hampshire, where incumbent Democrats — Mark Kelly, Catherine Cortez Masto, Raphael Warnock and Maggie Hassan — are fighting for their seats. Kelly, Cortez Masto and Warnock all lead their weak Trumpist rivals in the polls.

Then there’s Wisconsin, where MAGAt conspirator Sen. Ron Johnson is one of the few Republican incumbents at risk.

Also better known than North Carolina’s Senate contest are the open-seat races in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where record-breaking Democrats as working-class populist champions — Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman – competing against celebrity converts to Trumpism, bestselling author JD Vance in Ohio and TV personality and raw lover Mehmet Oz.

As Politico reported Thursday, “Republicans’ hopes of retaking the Senate rest on a list of candidates handpicked by Donald Trump. And across the board they seem to be struggling.”

Budd has campaigned less than Trump’s other Republicans, but he still has a slight lead in the few public polls on the race; Beasley led in a June poll. Analysts are calling the competition a toss-up. North Carolina is not a red state; the governor has been a Democrat for 26 of the last 30 years.

As usual, however, Democrats in North Carolina and elsewhere face a greater challenge than Republicans in winning their voters in non-presidential elections, particularly those who are young and black. The party’s recent victories could help send more Democrats to the ballot box — the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, with its healthcare benefits for lower drug costs, insulin price caps for Medicare beneficiaries, and Obamacare subsidies; and new laws to care for veterans exposed to toxins; and unprecedented, job-creating investments in the computer chip industry.

Just as crucial as what the Democrats have done is what Republicans are doing to themselves: resisting these popular measures, taking extreme anti-abortion positions, and keeping the unpopular Trump front and center.

The bombshells from the Jan. 6 House Special Committee hearings have added to the stench of anti-democracy extremism in the party. The year’s shootings turned many voters against pro-gun politicians; Budd voted against the bipartisan gun control bill, although both incumbent Republican senators from North Carolina supported it.

Still, inflation remains high and Democrats know an onslaught of well-funded Republican attacks is imminent. Beasley, for example, has already weathered false, racially-tinged attacks, much like Senate Republicans accused Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in her confirmation hearing; In each case, Republicans distorted the records of black lawyers and previous public defender careers to portray them as soft on criminals.

But here’s the thing: Jackson won the confirmation. And Beasley can win elections. It is indicative of the improved climate for Democrats that they actually have a place like North Carolina to look to for a possible Senate victory. The state deserves better in the Senate, and so do we.

@jackiekcalmes Column: The little-known Senate race that could make a big difference for Democrats

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