Jeff Jackson dropped out of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and offered a full-throated endorsement of Cheri Beasley Thursday in another twist in the closely watched election.
In a two-minute video message to supporters released Thursday morning Jackson, a four-term state senator from Charlotte, said it was time for Democrats to rally together and avoid the kind of drawn out fight happening in the GOP race between former Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd.
“Cheri Beasley will be a great U.S. Senator for North Carolina. So today I’m going to be her first endorsement as our party’s presumptive nominee. We have to come together right now,” Jackson said in the video. “We all saw what happened with the election in Virginia last month. We are headed into a tough one. Pat McCrory and Ted Budd are gearing up to spend millions of dollars attacking each other in order to be the Republican nominee. If we’re going to flip this seat, we can’t do that. A costly divisive, primary will sink this whole thing. We need to unite right now.”
Beasley responded Thursday afternoon in a series of tweets thanking Jackson for his support.
“Jeff Jackson campaigned from the heart, traveling across the state and listening to thousands of North Carolinians,” Beasley said in one of them. “I know he’ll continue to pour his heart into flipping this seat in November. I look forward to working with him to do just that.”
Jackson and Beasley are scheduled to appear jointly on Spectrum News Capital Tonight at 7 p.m.
The decision came after a shakeup in the field of Democratic candidates narrowed the race to a head-to-head contest between Beasley and Jackson and a legal challenge over partisan gerrymandering pushed the date of the primary from early March to mid-May.
Longtime Democratic consultant Thomas Mills said the move made sense given the landscape of the campaign and it was done in a way that will help Jackson’s future prospects.
Mills said when former state senator Erica Smith decided to drop her Senate bid and run for congress instead, Jackson’s “one slim chance of winning that primary disappeared.”
“Beasley is both the tested candidate and well-qualified with a with a strong, political resume, which makes her formidable anyhow,” he said. Without Smith, an African-American who represented the state’s northeastern counties, to draw away votes, Jackson had no path to victory, Mills said. By pulling out when he did and offering a strong endorsement, he preserves his chances in the future.
“I think that politically that was a very smart move on his part to to do that,” Mill said.
It also puts the differences between the two parties in sharp relief going into 2022 with Beasley now able to start running what amounts to a general election campaign while Budd and McCrory slug it out.
That dynamic will have even longer to play out since a state Supreme Court decision earlier this month moved the primary from March 8 to May 17 to allow time for redistricting legal challenges. A three-judge panel handling the challenges to new state legislative and congressional districts has scheduled a trial for the first week of January. A decision is expected by January 11, but if it requires new maps and, potentially additional challenges even the May date for the primary might be ambitious.
“They’re gonna beat each other up from now until whenever the primary is,” Mills said of Budd and McCrory. Although that means a lot of money will be spent in the GOP primary, Mills expects there will still be plenty for the fall campaign. The bigger problem, he said, is the aftermath of a divisive primary.
“I don’t believe that U.S. Senate races lack for money in this world, but they can be a position where they’re trying to figure out how in the world they’re going to unite the party in what could be a tough year in 2022.”
Last week, The Club for Growth, which is backing Budd, unleashed another broadside against McCrory, sending out a massive 12-page mailing attacking McCrory’s record as governor and comments he made critical of former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Budd. Club for Growth officials said the organization plans to spend $10 million on the race.
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