The Senate race in North Carolina has been the most expensive 2020 race, aside from the presidential primary. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) is up for election in November and if the primary is any predictor of the general, it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight. For the election on Tuesday, Democrats spent over $15.5 million; $14.5 million of that in 2020. The Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham won by 20 points, but the general election will likely be a lot closer. In total, nearly $20 million was spent on this race by Republicans, Democrats, and one almost certainly Republican group spending for a Democrat – more on that later.
Cal Cunningham came out of Tuesday as the Democratic nominee and was the clear spending favorite. $14 million of the $15.5 million in Democratic spending went to him. He was supported by three outside groups, Vote Vets (and their associated action fund), the DSCC, and Carolina Blue. In total, of the $14 million spent in his favor, only $2.4 million of that was from the Cunningham campaign itself. His focus was on broadcast, with nearly half of his money devoted to tv ads, but he has also been running digital ads on Google and Facebook since June of last year.Of the $3.6 million spent by Republicans, two-thirds ($2.2 million) was spent in favor of Senator Thom Tillis. The rest was from Tucker Garland ($1.1 million), the American Foundations Committee ($229 thousand), and Paul Wright ($1,257). Garland dropped out of the race in December after Trump endorsed Tillis and didn’t even appear on the ballot. In the end, Tillis walked away with it.
The Faith and Power PAC spent on the race throughout February, running ads (here and here) that touted democrat Erica Smith as “the only proven progressive” in the race. The thing is, all of the funding for the PAC came from the Senate Leadership Fund, who’s website states: “As an independent Super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund has one goal: to protect and expand the Republican Senate Majority…” In total the Faith and Power PAC spent about $2.5 million on the race. Whether their intention was to actually try to get Erica Smith elected or just to drive Cunningham to the left remains unclear, but one thing is certain: Republicans and Democrats alike understand the stakes of this election are going to fight tooth and nail until November.