Trump moves to boost Ted Budd in North Carolina Senate race

Former President Trump moved to boost Rep. Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddDemocratic super PAC ties Trump allies to Jan. 6 in new ad campaign The 10 races that will decide the Senate majority Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (R-N.C.), his chosen candidate in North Carolina’s marquee Senate race, amid earlier struggles to clear the primary field.

Trump hosted a meeting at his Mar-a-Lago resort over the weekend vowing to endorse former GOP Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerThe 10 races that will decide the Senate majority North Carolina Democrat Jeff Jackson drops out of Senate race Democrat Jeff Jackson set to exit North Carolina Senate race: report MORE if he drops out of the Senate race and wages a campaign for the House, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill.

Walker has been running against Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) in the Senate primary but has consistently polled behind both of them.

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Walker has not made any formal announcement about changing races, and his campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. Candidates can begin filing for their races in North Carolina starting at noon on Monday. 

The Mar-a-Lago meeting was first reported by Politico.

The news comes as Budd struggles to pass McCrory in the polls despite having the support of Trump and the Club for Growth, whose super PAC has dumped millions of dollars into the race to support him.

An internal poll from the McCrory camp released in October showed the former governor with a 15-point lead in a three-way match-up, while a November Club for Growth poll showed him with just a 3-point edge.

Walker is expected to run in the newly created 7th Congressional District in North Carolina, which is broadly similar to the district he held for three terms. The district also largely overlaps the district now represented by Budd. 

Clearing Walker out of the primary could open up a larger lane for Budd. Both Republicans are running as Trump allies, splitting up the former president’s base, while McCrory is centering much of his appeal to moderates and the argument that he’d be best positioned to win a general election next year in a must-win race for the GOP.

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Republican congressional candidate Bo Hines, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and Club for Growth President David McIntosh were all also in attendance at the meeting. Under the plan proposed by Trump, Hines would run for the 4th Congressional District instead of the 7th Congressional District, as he has been recently.

Spokespeople for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

The intervention by Trump marks an effort to protect his investment in Budd and also a recognition of the importance of North Carolina’s Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrPublic health expert: Biden administration needs to have agencies on the 'same page' about COVID Top Biden adviser expresses support for ban on congressional stock trades Biden's FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee MORE (R).

Losing Burr’s seat to the Democrats would make a large dent in the GOP’s plans to retake the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 and could swing based on the results of a single Senate race.

Still, McCrory’s campaign rejected the premise that the news will be a boost for Budd.

“Our polls show that Gov. McCrory’s large lead expands in this scenario,” Jordan Shaw, an adviser to McCrory’s campaign, told The Hill. “That’s because Walker’s supporters want someone who isn’t bought, paid for, wholly owned and operated by a D.C. special interest group. That obviously eliminates Congressman Budd and benefits Gov. McCrory.”