North Carolina Democratic Senate hopeful Cal Cunningham leads Sen. Thom Tillis by 4 percentage points in a poll released Wednesday despite being dogged by scathing press coverage for nearly two weeks after his marital infidelity surfaced.
Cunningham thus far appears politically unharmed by the scandal, leading Tillis 41 percent to 37 percent among likely voters in a New York Times/Siena College poll released Wednesday. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Other public polls have similarly found that North Carolina voters are not punishing Cunningham for his indiscretions the way they have politicians in the past. A Monmouth University poll out Tuesday showed Cunningham’s favorability suffered in light of his extramarital affair — but his lead over Tillis had grown compared with the pollster’s previous survey prior to the scandal emerging.
Cunningham also saw his public perception sink underwater in Wednesday’s Times/Siena poll — with only 40 percent of respondents viewing him favorably compared with 42 percent unfavorably, down from 46 percent to 29 percent a month ago.
Tillis’ favorability was largely unchanged with voters nearly split evenly. The Democrat also holds a 10-point advantage over Tillis among women in Wednesday’s Siena poll.
The race is on pace to become the most expensive Senate contest in history, with spending approaching $200 million with three weeks to go. The seat was high on Democrats’ wish list as they work to regain the Senate majority, and Cunningham had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other establishment groups in the primaries.
Republicans, who had struggled to find a winning message against Cunningham, have seized upon his infidelity and have aired ads highlighting the issue.
But the revelations came to light after voters had already started mailing in their ballots, potentially limiting Republicans’ ability to take advantage of any change of heart. More than 505,000 votes have been cast as of Wednesday morning, according to the North Carolina Board of Elections.
Wednesday’s poll did not specifically ask about the Cunningham scandal — in which he admitted to sending “romantic texts” to a California woman who has told The Associated Press of at least one intimate encounter with him. It did ask whether voters thought Tillis or Cunningham individually were “honest and trustworthy,” with 48 percent of respondents answering no for each man.
Democrats are also running ahead in North Carolina’s two other major contests, with Joe Biden leading President Donald Trump 46 percent to 42 percent and incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper up 14 percentage points — 51 percent to 37 percent — over Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
Trump won North Carolina in 2016 by a little under 4 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times/Siena College poll was conducted from Oct. 9-13, surveying 627 North Carolina likely voters.
Read more: politico.com