Coronavirus Diagnosis and Sexting Scandal Send Critical North Carolina Senate Race Into Chaos

Senator Thom Tillis, right, and Cal Cunningham, his Democratic challenger, during a debate Thursday night. / Credit…Pool photo by Gerry Broome

Even for an election cycle defined by a relentless string of crises and chaos, the amount of time it took for the Senate race in North Carolina, which could determine which party controls the Senate, to fall into utter mayhem was something of a record.

Late Friday night, Cal Cunningham, the former Democratic state senator and Iraq war veteran who has been leading in his bid to oust Senator Thom Tillis, one of the Republican Party’s most vulnerable incumbents, admitted to exchanging flirtatious texts with a woman who is not his wife. That news came nearly three hours after Mr. Tillis announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would close his campaign headquarters, in a devastating blow to his already lagging re-election campaign.

In a normal election cycle, either development alone would have registered as head-spinning.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, now what,’” said Michael Bitzer, a political analyst and political science professor at Catawba College in North Carolina.

But taken together, Mr. Cunningham’s scandal and Mr. Tillis’s diagnosis have upended the critical race just a month before Election Day, laying waste to both candidates’ core messages just as they were preparing to make their final appeals to voters.

For Mr. Cunningham, a married father of two, news of his romantic texts with a strategist based in California, reported earlier by The Raleigh News and Observer, was a blow to a carefully cultivated personal image that has been a centerpiece of his campaign. Throughout his race, Mr. Cunningham has leaned heavily on his character and biography, playing up his military service and presenting himself as an inoffensive moderate.

Mr. Tillis, a staunch ally of President Trump, had hoped that his participation in a swift confirmation for Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee could inject his campaign with a burst of momentum and divert attention from the coronavirus pandemic. Now, his diagnosis has called into question whether Mr. Tillis, a member of the Judiciary Committee that will consider the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, will even be able to attend a high-profile set of confirmation hearings, or vote to confirm her — and indeed whether the proceedings can go on as scheduled at all.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: The New York Times, Catie Edmondson