Jackson ends Senate bid in North Carolina, endorses Beasley

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RALEIGH. N.C. (AP) — A prominent U.S. Senate candidate in North Carolina withdrew from next year's race for the Democratic nomination on Thursday and threw his support to the state's former chief justice, who's had the advantage in fundraising and endorsements.

State Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, who announced his candidacy nearly a year ago and had built a loyal following, said in a video released on social media that voters now needed to back primary rival Cheri Beasley so Democrats can win the seat next November. Jackson's decision appears to put Beasley in the driver's seat for the nomination.

“A costly and divisive primary will sink this whole thing,” Jackson said. “We need to unite right now, and we need to unite behind Cheri.”

Jackson, an Afghan war veteran, National Guard soldier and former local prosecutor with a young family, had run a very active campaign, holding town hall meetings in all of North Carolina's 100 counties and on over a dozen college campuses. But Jackson acknowledged in the video that Beasley was consistently leading him in the polls. She had also won big endorsements from Democratic-allied constituencies like Planned Parenthood PAC, Emily's List and the AFL-CIO.

North Carolina's currently longest-serving U.S. House Democrats — Reps. G.K. Butterfield and David Price — had last week endorsed Beasley, who was the state's first Black woman to serve as chief justice and would be the first Black senator elected from North Carolina.

Jackson pointed to the Republican gains in Virginia elections last month and what's becoming a divisive GOP Senate primary as evidence that unity among Democrats was needed to pull off a victory in the closely divided state. The election to succeed the retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr could tip the current 50-50 balance in the Senate.

“We can win this election in November, and we can do it by electing someone who will make history and someone who sees the job as public service and not just a big partisan game,” Jackson said while endorsing Beasley as the “presumptive nominee.” At least two former Democratic Senate hopefuls — former state Sen. Erica Smith and virologist Richard Watkins — left the field last month and are now running for U.S. House instead.

Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton and Constance "Lov" Johnson of Charlotte filed their candidacy papers for the Democratic nomination with state election officials last week before the state Supreme Court delayed the March 8 primary until May 17 while judges rule in redistricting litigation.

Beasley, who got into the race in April, has been the top fundraiser among all candidates for Burr’s seat during the past two quarters. Beasley’s campaign had nearly $1.7 million in the bank entering October, while Jackson had almost $1.2 million.

In addition to fundraising pressures, an additional 10 weeks of primary campaigning also could have induced Jackson into going negative against Beasley, said Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer.

“I was surprised at the (announcement's) timing, but I think the inevitable writing on the wall really, probably pushed him to a point that he had to make a decision,” Bitzer said in an interview.

Getting out now could help Jackson, 39, build party goodwill in the years ahead with a future run for statewide office, Bitzer said. The seat of North Carolina's other senator — Republican Sen. Thom Tillis — isn't up for reelection until 2026.

Jackson alerted key supporters and donors of his decision Wednesday, according to several Democrats. Beasley was ready Thursday with her own news release thanking Jackson for the endorsement. “Sen. Jackson brought attention to the issues important to so many North Carolinians, and I know he will continue to do meaningful work in the state Senate,” she said. Jackson and Beasley on Thursday taped a joint appearance for a political affairs show on cable's Spectrum News 1 North Carolina.

The Republican primary for Burr's seat has intensified in recent weeks, as former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and ex-Rep. Mark Walker have pushed for U.S. Rep. Ted Budd to agree to a debate schedule. Budd, who has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, has benefitted from support from Washington-based Club for Growth Action. The political action committee has sent a 12-page full-color mailer and aired television ads attacking McCrory in order to help Budd.

Republican National Committee spokesperson Alex Nolley said in a news release that Jackson got out of the race because he “saw the writing on the wall and knows Democrats will face defeat in 2022 due to their self-made inflation, immigration and Afghanistan crises.”