Thomas Mills: Fundraising sets the stage for competitive U.S. Senate race

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 21, 2021

By Thomas Mills

The fundraising numbers are in for the second quarter and the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina is taking shape.

That said, fundraising has changed dramatically in the past few election cycles. What would once have gotten an eye-popping response gets little more than a shrug today. Online fundraising and the nationalization of campaigns have altered the equation. In addition, fundraising numbers mean less in a primary than in a general election.

On the Democratic side, Cheri Beasley led the pack in the second quarter, her first in the race. She raised an impressive $1.2 million, roughly the same amount Jeff Jackson raised in his first quarter as a U.S. Senate candidate. Just a few cycles ago, challengers raising more than a million in their first quarter this early in a race would have gotten the attention of the national press. Not anymore.

Jackson, for his part, raised $700,000. That’s no small haul, but it’s a bad trend line for the state senator from Charlotte. In a race for U.S. Senate, each quarter should build on the previous one, especially early in the campaign. Jackson needed to match or improve his first quarter report to show momentum in the race. Clearly, Beasley cut into his support.

Erica Smith raised about the same this quarter as she did last, around $110,000. She will need to substantially improve those numbers if she wants to be competitive next March. Right now, she’s not really growing her support in any measurable way.

On the Republican side, former Gov. Pat McCrory topped the crowd. He raised $1.24 million, again a solid haul for his first quarter. Ted Budd, who has Trump’s endorsement, trailed him, raising $700,000. A few cycles ago $700,000 would be acceptable, but in the world of small-dollar donors, especially with Trump’s backing, Budd got panned by a lot of politicos. However, he still has more cash-on-hand than McCrory because of money from his congressional account.

Pulling up the rear was Mark Walker, who only brought in $250,000. He’s got money left over from his congressional account, but he will need to improve in the third quarter or he will have difficulty competing in the primary down the stretch. Walker, though, could most benefit from the primary electorate and structure.

Primaries are not general elections. The electorates are much smaller and tend to be more partisan. Upsets are easier to pull off. Walker, for example, could galvanize the evangelical base of the GOP. As a pastor, he would seem to have more credibility with them than either McCrory or Budd, but evangelicals have been putting more faith in politics than Christianity lately and they might go with a candidate seen as more viable than Walker. Still, he might be able to do more with less money.

The race for U.S. Senate is taking shape, with several candidates in both parties raising enough money to be competitive. There’s still more time for other candidates to enter, but they would be playing catch up and would need to bring either a lot of money or a lot of flare to the race.

Right now, I would put my money on Beasley on the Democratic side, but wouldn’t bet on anybody in the GOP primary. The third quarter will tell us more.

Thomas Mills is founder and publisher of, where this column first appeared.