North Carolina Democrat Cal Cunningham admitted to sending romantic extramarital texts

By Ella Nilsen

Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham speaks during a televised debate with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) on October 1 in Raleigh, NC.
AP

Cal Cunningham, the Democrat running in North Carolina’s highly competitive US Senate race, has owned up to sending romantic texts to a woman who is not his wife.

Cunningham, who is a married with two children, sent texts to Arlene Guzman Todd, a public relations strategist in California. The news was first reported by NationalFile.com, which detailed screenshots of the texts between the two.

“I have hurt my family, disappointed my friends, and am deeply sorry,” Cunningham said in a statement obtained by Vox. “The first step in repairing those relationships is taking complete responsibility, which I do. I ask that my family’s privacy be respected in this personal matter.”

Cunningham has vowed to not drop out of the race. He has been leading sitting Republican Sen. Thom Tillis consistently in recent polls, and has a 6 percentage point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average of the state. The big question is whether these revelations, coming a month before the election, will hurt Cunningham with swing voters, especially suburban women.

“I remain grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state,” Cunningham said in his statement.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — the campaign arm of Senate Democrats — released a statement also reiterating their support of the candidate.

“North Carolinians are supporting Cal because he will protect health care coverage for pre-existing conditions, fight to bring down the costs of prescription drugs, and help our country recover from this crisis,” said DSCC Communications Director Lauren Passalacqua.

The revelations about Cunningham’s texts, and the candidate owning up to it, wasn’t the only news to rock the North Carolina Senate race this week. On Friday, Tillis announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He attended last weekend’s White House ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett; numerous attendees of that event have now tested positive for coronavirus, including President Donald Trump.

Tillis is planning to quarantine. Given the fact that Cunningham and Tillis recently appeared together on a debate stage, Cunningham announced he also would get tested.

Cunningham’s extramarital texts, briefly explained

The text messages between the two obtained by National File show Cunningham and Guzman Todd planning to see each other.

“Pick a day, city, make an excuse for the fam, ditch a staffer, starch your white shirt, and be ready to kiss a lot,” a text from Guzman Todd reads.

“Would make my day to roll over and kiss you about now,” another text from Cunningham reads.

The two also talked about Cunningham’s Senate campaign. One text message from Cunningham says, “Nervous about the next 100 days!!”

“Understandable,” Guzman Todd replies. “Well sending you love and support from here. I know you got this.”

The fact that Cunningham sent extramarital texts could be damaging to his candidacy. Even though North Carolina is split pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans, it’s still seen as a relatively conservative state. But Democrats are betting voters will care more about the policy differences between Tillis and Cunningham more than the Democrat’s personal life.

Candidates for office often run on their sterling personal backgrounds, and family life is often used to illustrate a candidate’s character and judgment. Cunningham is a former state lawmaker, military prosecutor, and veteran. That’s the kind of profile a Senate candidate wants to have, and Cunningham’s website emphasizes his family and talks about how he met his wife Elizabeth at the University of North Carolina.

This may tarnish Cunningham’s image, but by the standards of modern political sex scandals (including the multiple sexual assault allegations against the sitting president), it’s relatively tame.

The North Carolina Senate race is a top target for Democrats

North Carolina is a crucial swing state, and Democrats think they have a good shot at flipping it in 2020.

Yes, North Carolina is a southern state. But it’s also seen a lot of demographic changes in recent years, and its changing suburbs are looking friendlier to Democrats. As Vox’s Dylan Scott explained in his in-depth profile of the state:

By voter registration numbers, the state is neatly divided in thirds among Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters. But most of those unaffiliated voters are actually reliable votes for one party or the other. Instead, according to the political scientists and strategists I spoke with, North Carolina looks more like this: 45 percent Republican voters, 45 percent Democratic voters, and 10 percent truly persuadable swing voters.

So any winning coalition in the state starts with turning out as many voters in your 45 percent as you can — and then winning that small percentage of persuadable voters and ticket splitters.

Where are those gettable voters? The suburbs.

The suburbs will be the battleground where the North Carolina Senate race plays out this fall. To win his race, Cunningham will also need women voters — a constituency who are friendlier to Democrats, and with whom Democratic nominee Joe Biden is winning handily in polls — to turn out for him.

The best Cunningham can hope for is that the news about his texts blows over, and that voters care more about his message of expanding Medicaid in North Carolina, boosting unemployment benefits, and passing more Covid-19 aid.

And the Democratic Party is hoping for the same: North Carolina is a key state for Democrats in order to flip the Senate majority, and a loss here could be a big blow to their hopes.

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