Democratic North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks at an election night event hosted by the North Carolina Democratic Party after winning her primary race in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Republican Ted Budd will face Beasley in North Carolina’s Senate race after both easily clinched primary victories Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown) Cheri Beasley
Democratic North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley speaks at an election night event hosted by the North Carolina Democratic Party after winning her primary race in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Republican Ted Budd will face Beasley in North Carolina’s Senate race after both easily clinched primary victories Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Tuesday’s primary exposed a power struggle between Trump and everyone else in NC’s GOP.  

What happened, Pat McCrory?

That was the question for the former North Carolina governor late Tuesday after Trump-endorsed Republican Ted Budd shellacked him in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. 

McCrory, who appeared sheepish but prepared, recounted the former president’s suggestion at the state GOP convention in June that the former moderate didn’t “support our values.” 

“I think when that happened I went, ‘Wow, this has changed when a former president says I don’t represent the values of the people in that room,’” McCrory opined. 

Whatever McCrory represents, the party he once led in North Carolina thinks so little of him today that he lost by 34 percentage points to Budd, a hard-right candidate from Winston-Salem who, like Trump, supported the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Even though North Carolina went for Trump by about 74,000 votes.

Like many of his contemporaries in Trump’s orbit, Budd is short on specific policy proposals but big on things like the Mexican border, guns, and directing schools to teach “the values that made America great.” 

If you want more specifics, perhaps that will come after the primary, but don’t count on it. The post-Trump GOP jettisoned platforms. When they do have a platform, it might be a hard sell. Sen. Rick Scott, the Florida Republican who leads the Senate GOP campaign, pushes a “Rescue America” plan that includes a tax cut for most working Americans and could sunset popular programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

If you’re looking for clarity, though, Budd’s victory is the clearest indicator yet that Trump’s approval still matters in North Carolina, even if it can be diluted at the local level. 

Trump’s candidates in the congressional districts were a mixed bag. In the 13th District, Bo Hines pulled off a relatively tight victory despite questionable residency in the district. Madison Cawthorn lost his 11th District race, although it’s possible Trump’s endorsement was the only thing that kept him in it. A series of leaked photos and videos, including one that showed Cawthorn naked in bed with another man, surely tested the GOP base’s homophobia. 

All of that, however, is likely a sideshow for voters, which is just the way Trump likes it. This fall’s election is going to be about the former president again, and what kind of power he holds in North Carolina. But it will also be about the economy, affordability, healthcare access, and, of course, abortion rights.

Here are a few more takeaways from Tuesday’s primary:

Cheri Beasley Is the Big Ticket 

Beasley was always the Democratic frontrunner to contend in an all-important US Senate seat, even if she received an early challenge from state Sen. Jeff Jackson. Because Democrats hold a sliver of power in the chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, every seat matters, especially when it comes to passing federal protections of voting, abortion rights, economic recovery programs, and climate change proposals.   

She’s a groundbreaker, becoming the first Black woman to be chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court. She’s also a former assistant public defender whose record is so strong her name will be popping up on shortlists for US Supreme Court vacancies for years to come. If she wins in November, she would become the first Black North Carolinian sent to the Senate.

Without a serious challenger in the final months of the primary, her campaign kept a low profile. But expect her to have a much more public presence in the months to come. 

She might also be precisely what Democrats need to counter perception of the party establishment as aging, stuffy, and out-of-touch.

“During my first campaign for district court judge, my opponents said a young mom couldn’t win,” Beasley said in a tweet Tuesday night. “So I put my twins in a stroller and went door-to-door. I won that race by 30 points.”

Voter Turnout Was Strong, Especially for a Midterm Election Year 

North Carolina didn’t set records, but it came close.

Despite a pandemic, the 2020 election recorded historic turnout in North Carolina and across the nation. With abortion rights in real peril, it’s possible this year’s midterms could make some history too.

That’s a good thing. It’s always a good thing when more people vote. 

The Big-Tent Democratic Party Continues to Expand

Representation isn’t about tokenism. It’s about emphasizing diverse lived experiences among our policymakers. That’s been the winning message for progressives for so long no matter the trolling on the right.

The Democrats who won primaries Tuesday represented exactly the kind of diverse lived experiences that progressives have been talking about, if not voting for, for decades.

One good example: Barbara Gaskins in House District 3 won her primary in eastern North Carolina handily. She’s not well-known on a big stage for NC Democrats, but her grassroots background is bonafide. 

Her family goes back generations in eastern NC. Her website tells the story of her fourth great grandfather, who grew up an enslaved person in Craven and Jones counties. She’s also the founder of a nonprofit that focuses on re-entry to society for incarcerated people. Gaskins might have a tall order facing Republican incumbent Greg Murphy, but her race is one to watch. 

All across the Democratic Party’s Senate and congressional primaries, the party’s big tent got bigger. 

The NC Supreme Court Elections Are Huge—Really Huge 

As much as judicial candidates might loathe the partisan nature of their races, this fall’s 2022 elections for two seats on the state’s highest court is a big political fracas. 

Aside from Beasley and Budd’s US Senate race, these could be the most important races in the state this year. The US Supreme Court, well-padded now with conservative appointees, has swung hard to the right — its pending overturn of abortion rights in a country where upwards of 70% of Americans support legal abortion being just one example. 

That said, the last defense on issues like abortion, voting rights, and education funding for NC’s poorest counties wil likely come down to the state Supreme Court.

Two seats held by Democrats are up for re-election. If Republicans win one, the balance of the court will swing in their favor. This fall, look for progressives to pin a lot of hopes on Sam Ervin IV, an incumbent Supreme Court judge, and Lucy Inman, currently a judge on the NC Court of Appeals.