Lara Trump is wild card in North Carolina Senate race
Lara Trump is looming over the Republican Senate primary in North Carolina as the field grows with some of the state’s biggest GOP names.
The younger Trump, a North Carolina native married to the former president’s son Eric Trump, has yet to announce whether she’ll jump into the race to fill retiring Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) seat, but she stands to have a major impact on it.
Strategists say that while the general election race will likely be tight, Trump will benefit from her family name in a state that still trends relatively Republican.
“The biggest impact will be Lara Trump,” said Thomas Mills, founder and publisher of the North Carolina political blog PoliticsNC.com. “She’s a Trump and that name carries quite a bit of weight in the GOP primary, but we don’t know how much.”
Trump said last month that she was “absolutely” considering a run for the seat. She fueled further speculation of a looming campaign by becoming a Fox News contributor earlier this year.
A survey conducted earlier this month by the GOP polling firm Cygnal showed Trump garnering 32.4 percent support, leading an eight-way primary.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and former Rep. Mark Walker (R) have declared their candidacies for the seat.
McCrory, who lost his gubernatorial reelection to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in 2012, is not seen as someone particularly close to the former president. The former governor was vetted for a Cabinet position in Trump’s new administration but was not chosen.
Walker, who briefly considered challenging Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) during the 2020 cycle, raised $209,000 during the first quarter of the year. The former pastor-turned-three-term congressman even met with former President Trump at the end of 2019.
“If I can quote this verbatim, I asked, ‘Mr. President, if we run for another position would you support us?’ ” Walker told the Raleigh News and Observer in 2019.
“Anything,” former President Trump said, according to Walker.
Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is also said to be considering a run. The congressman has closely aligned himself with the former president and objected to the certification of the 2020 Electoral College results after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The former president’s influence will likely be a major factor in the race, as he remains popular with the state’s Republicans.
“There’s an agenda there that really does mirror the agenda that President Trump was working throughout his administration, and he remains extremely popular among Republican voters,” said North Carolina state GOP Chair Michael Whatley. “Anybody that’s going to come out of the primary is going to be running on that agenda.”
If Lara Trump jumped into the race, she would very likely get her father-in-law’s endorsement. On top of that, she would likely have access to the Trump fundraising apparatus and be able to use her own campaign skills she gained stumping for the former president in 2016 and 2020.
“We know that she can raise a ton of money very quickly, and not from the places [where] everyone else is running would be raising that money,” said veteran Republican strategist Doug Heye. “She’d be raising it nationally in small dollars over and over again.”
Some question how much Trump would be able to home in on her North Carolina roots given her recent presence in New York City. But others point to her campaign visits to North Carolina on behalf of her father-in-law, as well as the success of former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in her Senate bid nearly 20 years ago after she spent much time away in Washington.
“The reality is, she hadn’t been to North Carolina in a long, long time,” Heye said. “But she was ‘the pride of Salisbury’ and she was a North Carolina gal. That was a big part of her narrative and no one challenged her on it.”
Another advantage she could bring to the table is an ability to galvanize Republican women. She made a number of stops on behalf of Women for Trump during the 2020 general election campaign.
But not everyone is convinced the younger Trump would be a shoo-in as the GOP general election candidate. She has no political experience prior to the 2016 campaign and has never held elected office.
“She brings an unknown, but some real, star power,” Mills said. “We’ve seen over the years a lot of people who begin campaigns with a lot of star power burn out really fast.”
Budd, another prospective candidate, also did not have any prior political experience before winning his House race in 2016.
Still others point to the negative impact the Trump name has had in swing states and districts. House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled in an interview with Politico earlier this year that he would not necessarily support every candidate backed by the former president, including Lara Trump.
“My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November,” McConnell told the outlet. “Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”
His remarks came after the insurrection following President Biden’s victory in the general election and a Democratic sweep in two special Senate races in Georgia. Lara Trump held a public discussion with McConnell on behalf of the Trump campaign as recently as summer 2020, but a rift between the two wings of the party has only deepened since Biden won, something that could play against her in 2022.
Regardless of whether she enters the contest, the primaries on both sides of the aisle will be closely watched given the high stakes in the race for the Senate majority.
Former President Trump only won North Carolina by just over a point, while Tillis defeated Democrat Cal Cunningham by roughly 2 points. Burr’s 2010 reelection victory marked the first time since 1968 when a Senate candidate in the state won by double digits.
Democrats say they feel optimistic about their chances in the state. So far, state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-N.C.); Beaufort, N.C., Mayor Rett Newton; virologist Richard Watkins; and former state Sen. Erica Smith have declared their candidacies. Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Joan Higginbotham, who was the third Black woman to go into space, are also said to be considering bids in the Democratic primary.
“It’s clearer and clearer that the Republican primary gets uglier by the day, so we’re grateful for the fact that our candidates are having a healthy debate on policy issues and things that interest the North Carolina voters,” said the state Democratic chair Bobbie Richardson.
However, Republicans say they are not concerned about the potentially crowded field, saying they encourage the debate with more than a year to go before the primary.
“Primaries make stronger candidates in the general,” Whatley said.