Where things stand in NC’s Senate race, less than five weeks out from Election Day

Observer and N&O file

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Less than five weeks out from Election Day, polls show that Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd are separated by a single percentage point or less in their bids to claim North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat.

The close race hasn’t received as much national attention as Senate match-ups in other states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, but with both parties currently holding 50 seats in the chamber, the outcome in a single race could have massive implications as Democrats and Republicans vie for control.

A SurveyUSA/WRAL poll conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2 found 43% of respondents backing Budd and 42% supporting Beasley. Thirteen percent of respondents said they were undecided.

Another poll conducted between Sept. 24 and 26, by the conservative nonprofit organization Civitas, found Beasley leading Budd among likely voters 44% to 43.7%. In that poll, 10% of respondents said they were undecided.

Democrats may be encouraged by how close the race is, but election watchers have been quick to point out that Democrats haven’t won a statewide federal race in North Carolina since 2008, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain by less than half a percentage point, and Kay Hagan defeated then-incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole by more than 8 percentage points.

The next few weeks will be pivotal, as both candidates continue campaigning across the state to try to win over support from the pool of undecided voters and turn out more of their own supporters than their opponent. Budd and Beasley will also take part in their first televised, prime-time debate on tonight at 8 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.

Absentee voting has already begun, and in-person early voting will begin on Oct. 20 and run through Nov. 5.

Read our special report: Project 170

Congressional contests aren’t the only races on the ballot with potential ramifications for the entire state.

There’s also the battle for control of the General Assembly, which could be debating major issues such as abortion and immigration when lawmakers return to Raleigh in January.

Republicans, who are within striking distance of a legislative supermajority, are hoping to win the handful of seats required in both the House and Senate to be able to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes and enact policy on their own. Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to keep Cooper’s veto in place by denying the GOP victories in competitive districts where both parties have a good chance of winning.

In Project 170, a package of stories publishing today and over the weekend, my colleagues Dawn Vaughan, David Raynor and Kyle Ingram report on what is in store in the upcoming legislative session, and what candidates in all 170 House and Senate races describe as their top priorities, and top issues.

These stories include interviews with Cooper and top Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers. They address three possible election outcomes and what kinds of legislative action is on the table under each scenario, and whether there is room for moderates within both parties.

We’re also publishing candidate questionnaires so readers can learn about the people running to represent them in the General Assembly. These can be found at newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/election/voter-guide.

Other stories from the team this week

In a state where 10.7% of the population identifies as Hispanic, only 27 candidates out of more than 2,000 running across the state are Hispanic. Luciana Perez Uribe Guinassi talks to Hispanic candidates from both parties and examines why Hispanics are underrepresented.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said he was pardoning thousands of federal simple marijuana possession offenses, and urged governors to do the same with similar convictions at the state level. North Carolina Democrats, including Attorney General Josh Stein and state Rep. Kelly Alexander, a longtime advocate for legalization, were quick to praise the policy and explain what the state should do next, I reported.

Will Doran reports on arguments this week in Harper v. Hall, a case before the N.C. Supreme Court over how much power state courts should have to decide if maps drawn by the legislature amount to partisan gerrymandering and violate the state constitution.

As construction of N.C. Freedom Park continues, a 50-foot tall steel sculpture, the Beacon of Freedom, has been erected as the park’s centerpiece. Dawn Vaughan reports on what the Beacon means to the African American community.

Thanks for reading. See you next week. In the meantime, tune into our stories, our tweets and our Under the Dome podcast for more developments.

— By Avi Bajpai, reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at abajpai@newsobserver.com.