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Cunningham dodges questions about text message scandal

North Carolina Senate candidate Cal Cunningham (D) declined multiple times on Friday to say whether he carried on other extramarital affairs after he admitted last week to exchanging romantic text messages with a woman who is not his wife.

In his first formal news conference since intimate text messages between Cunningham and a married California communications strategist surfaced last week, Cunningham repeatedly dodged questions about whether more revelations about his personal life would come to light. 

“I have taken responsibility for the hurt that I’ve caused in my personal life,” Cunningham said. “I apologized to it, I apologized for it. And I know that this campaign our campaign is about things that are much bigger and more important than just me. It’s about the very issues and people we were just talking to right here.”

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Cunningham, a former state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, has been reluctant to address revelations of an extramarital affair since he admitted last week to exchanging the romantic text messages.

“Would make my day to roll over and kiss you about now,” Cunningham says in one of the text messages, which were first published online by the right-wing website NationalFile.com. In other messages, the two fantasized about spending the night together.

The Army Reserve announced on Wednesday that it was investigating Cunningham in relation to the affair.

The revelations of the affair have rattled Cunningham’s campaign against Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden barnstorm the Midwest | Texas sets statewide turnout record | Trump, Tillis trail in NC North Carolina Democrat Cunningham leads Tillis by 10 points in new poll Georgia Republican Drew Ferguson tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-N.C.), upending a race that Democrats see as critical to their hopes of capturing a Senate majority in November. 

Republicans have seized on the scandal in recent days, arguing that the affair undermines the morality and integrity that Cunningham has espoused frequently on the campaign trail. 

Tillis’s campaign launched a television ad this week hitting Cunningham over the scandal. 

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Recent polling, however, shows little movement in the race between Cunningham and Tillis. A survey from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling released this week found Cunningham with a 6-point advantage, while a Change Research poll out on Wednesday showed him up by 4 points.

But questions about Cunningham’s personal life and behavior have swirled across the state in recent days, getting front-page headlines in some of North Carolina’s largest newspapers and top billing in local news broadcasts. Political operatives on both sides of the aisle say that it’s not yet clear how the effects of the scandal will play out.

“I just think there are a lot of questions to ask him. There’s a lot of details to figure out,” one veteran North Carolina Democratic consultant said. “He’s got to talk about it.”

Cunningham on Friday said that he would continue to campaign on issues like health care and the need for Congress to pass a coronavirus relief bill. He also blamed Tillis for seeking to distract from policy matters by attacking him over the affair. 

“Of course he’s going to want to talk about my personal life,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to stay focused on North Carolinians.”