RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Roy Cooper gave former North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley his full-throated endorsement for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, attempting to secure a smoother path for her to become the Democrats' nominee to wrest a seat held by a Republican since 2005.
“As someone who knows what it takes to win, I can tell you that Cheri’s got it. She’s honest and trustworthy and she’ll put in the hard work necessary to fight for the people of North Carolina,” Cooper said in a video provided by Beasley’s campaign.
Cooper had signaled his backing after Beasley's main primary rival left the race in mid-December. His endorsement now, with four months to go before the May 17 primary, suggests how much Democrats want to improve party unity and give additional momentum to Beasley before what's sure to be a brutal general election campaign against whoever wins the Republican primary.
GOP Sen. Richard Burr isn't seeking reelection after three terms, and next fall's outcome could tip the current 50-50 balance in the Senate.
Beasley's remaining Democratic primary rivals include Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton. The contentious Republican side features Rep. Ted Budd, former Gov. Pat McCrory and ex-Rep. Mark Walker. Budd was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, and Walker appears to be staying in the race even after Trump asked him last month to consider running for a House seat instead.
It was Cooper, now in his second term and this year’s chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, who named Beasley in 2019 to be the first Black woman to oversee the judicial branch in North Carolina history. She lost her bid to be elected to an eight-year term as chief justice by just 400 votes in November 2020. Now she's seeking to be North Carolina's first Black U.S. senator.
“When I appointed Cheri Beasley to be the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, I knew she was the right person at the right time. That thought is even more true today,” adds Cooper. "She’ll be the partner I need in Washington and a strong voice for our state.”
State Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte threw his support to Beasley when he quit the race last month, saying she had been consistently leading him in the polls and that “a costly and divisive primary" could prevent Democrats from retaking the seat. Beasley also had earned endorsements from key Democratic interest groups, including the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood.
Another Beasley rival left the race in November — former state Sen. Erica Smith of Northampton County, who finished second to Cal Cunningham in the 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary, decided to run instead for the U.S. House seat vacated by the retiring Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield.
Beasley's campaign announced Tuesday that it raised more than $2.1 million in the final three months of 2021 and began this year with over $2.8 million in cash. Beasley was already the top fundraiser among all candidates for Burr’s seat during the previous two quarters. Newton's campaign reported raising $144,300 overall through Sept. 30. Fourth-quarter filings must be turned in to federal campaign officials by Jan. 31.