The first-term Republican was buoyed by President Donald Trump’s stronger-than-expected performance and a sex scandal that weighed down his Democratic opponent.
GOP Sen. Thom Tillis won a second term in North Carolina, after Democrat Cal Cunningham conceded defeat Tuesday in what was the most expensive Senate election in the country this year.
The victory gives the GOP at least 49 senators in the new Congress, with GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska leading his race to become the 50th Republican. Control of the Senate will come down to two Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia.
North Carolina was the epicenter of the battle for the Senate in 2020, easily topping $200 million in total spending on its way to becoming the most expensive Senate race of all time.
Tillis, a first-term senator who narrowly won his seat in a GOP wave six years ago, faced persistent concerns about support from Republican base voters and even the threat of a primary challenge, all of which weakened his standing in a tightly divided state even before the election year arrived.
But the race shifted dramatically in a 48-hour period in early October. Tillis tested positive for Covid-19 and was forced to quarantine at a critical juncture. Just hours later, Cunningham’s campaign confirmed he had sent illicit text messages to a woman who was not his wife. Revelation of the affair upended Cunningham’s campaign, forcing him to apologize and kicking off a period of underground campaigning.
The Democrat did Zoom events and eventually reemerged for in person campaigning, but he repeatedly declined to answer questions about his affair or sit for interviews with members of the press.
Tillis and GOP allies flooded the race with late spending highlighting the affair and questioning Cunningham’s character and fitness for office. Cunningham, meanwhile, kept his campaign focused on health care and Tillis’ Senate record. Cunningham was boosted by a massive spending disparity: The Democrat raised nearly $48 million for the election through mid-October, compared to just $23 million for Tillis.