EMILY’s List Bets On Cheri Beasley As North Carolina’s First Black Senator

The group’s backing should provide a financial and political boost to the former state Supreme Court justice in a crowded Democratic primary.
Democrat Cheri Beasley is running for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022.
Democrat Cheri Beasley is running for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022.
Kevin Lowery

A powerful and well-funded Democratic group is endorsing former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley in the North Carolina’s 2022 U.S. Senate race, providing her with an early boost in her effort to become the state’s first-ever Black senator.

EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, announced its support for Beasley on Wednesday, a little over a week after she officially announced her bid for Senate.

In its endorsement, EMILY’s List noted Beasley’s history of winning statewide elections: She won judicial contests in 2008 and 2014 before losing by just over 400 votes to a conservative challenger in 2020. She is the first Black woman to ever win a statewide race in the state.

“Cheri is a devoted public servant and experienced leader who has dedicated her career to bettering the lives of North Carolinians,” said Emily Cain, the executive director of EMILY’s List. “We know that as a U.S. senator she will champion improved access to health care, quality public education and the ability to find work that supports a family.”

EMILY’s List is capable of marshaling donors to give millions of dollars to specific candidates and has an affiliated super PAC, Women Vote, that will often spend millions more backing candidates in contested Democratic primaries.

“Our campaign is focused on fighting for the people of North Carolina on the issues they care about, from affordable health care to quality education and jobs that support families,” Beasley said. “EMILY’s List knows what it takes to help win tough campaigns and make history ― and that is exactly what we’ll do with their support.”

The group is endorsing Beasley over another Black woman, former state Sen. Erica Smith, who also ran for Senate in 2020 and lost the Democratic nomination to military veteran Cal Cunningham after struggling to raise money. Smith, a progressive, raised just under $200,000 in the first quarter.

Other announced Democratic candidates include state Sen. Jeff Jackson, a former prosecutor and Afghanistan War veteran who raised $1.2 million in the first quarter, and Beaufort Mayor Rhett Newton.

The group’s endorsement is also a sign a third Black woman, former astronaut Joan Higginbotham, is unlikely to make a Senate run of her own this cycle. Democrats in the state have said they didn’t expect both women would run and risk splitting votes.

Democrats have lost the last two Senate races in the state, in 2016 and in 2020, by narrow margins. Last cycle, Cunningham led Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in public surveys for most of the race but lost following revelations he had had an affair.

Still, the race is seen as one of Democrats’ best opportunities to pick up a seat in 2022. GOP Sen. Richard Burr is retiring, and Republicans are set to have an equally crowded primary of their own. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, Rep. Ted Budd and former Rep. Mark Walker have all announced runs, and Lara Trump ― the wife of former President Donald Trump’s son Eric ― is also considering a bid.

The Senate is split 50-50, with Democratic control resting on Vice President Kamala Harris’s ability to break ties. The party out of power historically gains seats during the midterm elections.

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