Cal Cunningham's sexting scandal amid tight NC Senate race threatens his bid: election analyst

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North Carolina Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham is in hot water — and his onetime lead over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis now in jeopardy — after revelations of steamy text messages with a woman who is not his wife and evidence the affair was more serious, according to an elections policy analyst.

"I think the timing of the affair is more damaging to Cunningham than the physicality of it," Andy Jackson of the Civitas Institute told Fox News. "To do something like this in July, after he secured his party’s nomination last March, suggests an arrogance and a lack of sound judgment that is more likely to give potential supporters pause than if this is something that had happened a couple of years ago."


Cunningham's team said Tuesday that he will stay in the U.S. Senate race, but the married father of two couldn't withdraw even if he wanted to because of North Carolina law, Jackson said.

Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, left, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. talk during a televised debate Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool)

"Once the ballots go out, you can’t withdraw your name, so he’s in," Jackson said, adding that military and overseas ballots were mailed out starting Sept. 4. "The party knows they don’t have a choice but to stick with Cunningham. There's nothing legally binding about a withdrawal. … They’ve got to make the best out of this situation."

Cunningham was ahead in the polls throughout the summer and raked in a record-setting $28.3 million in donations over the past three months. Add to that North Carolina voters' record for ousting nearly every modern incumbent senator after one term, and Cunningham appeared to be on a path to victory, Jackson said.


Cunningham's opponent, Sen. Tillis, R-N.C., has had problems generating enthusiasm among his conservative base, Jackson said.

"Cunningham’s path was much simpler: grab those middle undecided voters," he said.

What appeared to be a simple race is now much more complex. Cunningham apologized for his texts with public relations strategist Arlene Todd Guzman, but his campaign declined to comment on evidence that the two were intimate as recently as July, as first reported by WRAL.

Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham speaks during a televised debate with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool, file)

"Senator [Thom] Tillis and his allies are trying to exploit a personal matter and ignoring a family’s request for privacy to make desperate attacks in hopes they can distract from Senator Tillis’ record," a Cunningham campaign spokeswoman said in a statement to Fox News on Tuesday.

The North Carolina Democratic Party is likely to stay mum on the issue, too, although they have chastised candidates on occasion. Last week, the party distanced itself from Jenna Wadsworth, a Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner, after she posted a video appearing gleeful over President Trump's coronavirus diagnosis, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.


"It was easy for the Democratic Party to throw Wadsworth under the bus because she was already a long-shot candidate," Jackson said. "They are going to stick with Cunningham, both because they have to and because there is hope he can weather this storm."

Fox News' inquiries to the North Carolina Democratic Party were not returned at the time of publication.

Fox News' Megan Henney contributed to this report.

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