Who’s in, who’s out and who is still deciding on a 2022 US Senate run in North Carolina?

The following have said they are running, are not running or have been part of the discussion for the US Senate seat in 2022 to represent North Carolina. Top row: Jeff Jackson, Pat McCrory, Anita Earls and Ted Budd. Bottom row: Mark Meadows, Lara Trump, Erica Smith and Mark Walker.

The following have said they are running, are not running or have been part of the discussion for the US Senate seat in 2022 to represent North Carolina. Top row: Jeff Jackson, Pat McCrory, Anita Earls and Ted Budd. Bottom row: Mark Meadows, Lara Trump, Erica Smith and Mark Walker.

North Carolina Republican Richard Burr is not running for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate, creating an open seat for the 2022 election season and attracting plenty of interest from Democrats and Republicans.

The Senate is evenly divided with 50 Democrats or independents who caucus with them and 50 Republicans, which means races in swing states like North Carolina are sure to attract attention and money.

Republicans have won four consecutive Senate races in North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis in 2020 and 2014 and Burr in 2010 and 2016) and have won six of the last seven.

Here’s a look at who has declared their candidacy and who has said they won’t run, as of Feb. 19. And then there are those who are part of the “Who’s running?” conversation but have yet to discuss their intentions.

We’ll update this story as candidates make themselves known.

Who is running for US Senate in NC?

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican, announced his candidacy on Dec. 1. Walker, from Greensboro, opted not to run for reelection in 2020 after his seat was redrawn into a Democratic-leaning district. At that time, he said he had the backing of former President Donald Trump for a Senate bid. “I see no reason why that’s dissipated,” Walker said in December about having Trump’s support.

Former N.C. Sen. Erica Smith, a Democrat, has been a candidate since last year. She is planning a launch event for later in the spring. Smith lost in the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to nominee Cal Cunningham. (Tillis defeated Cunningham to win reelection.) She vowed a different campaign this time. Smith has already backed Medicare for All, which she did not do in the 2020 primary.

State Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat, announced his candidacy in late January. Jackson, 38, is from Charlotte and considered a run in 2020. He was leaning toward a run in 2022 when the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “cemented the decision,” he said in announcing his candidacy. Jackson, who has a strong social media following, announced he raised $500,000 in the first two days after entering the race.

Who’s considering running?

Republican Lara Trump, who is married to former President Donald Trump’s son, Eric, is a Wilmington native and N.C. State graduate. She was a frequent presence on the campaign trail for her father-in-law. In a December interview with McClatchy, she did not rule out a run for office some day. There have been several “will she or won’t she” stories, but talk intensified after the former president was acquitted in his second impeachment trial — and Burr crossed party lines and voted to convict.

“My friend Richard Burr just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Donald Trump, said in a Fox News interview.

Graham’s statement was full of conditions, but reignited the Lara Trump talk.

U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, a Republican, is “seriously considering” a run for U.S. Senate, his spokesman said. Budd, a third-term congressman from Davie County, has been active since being reelected to the 13th Congressional District. He has pushed measures banning earmarks, creating liability for small businesses, fighting federal regulations and working to get the fencing removed around the Capitol.

“The sooner we unite behind our conservative ideals the better. So, let’s get to work building on the timeless principles of America First,” Budd said in supporting the NC Republican Party’s censure of Burr over the impeachment vote.

Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, has not commented publicly about a run for Senate. Beasley was the first Black woman to serve as chief justice, but she lost a narrow election to Paul Newby in November. In January, Beasley joined the Raleigh law firm McGuireWoods as a partner.

“I do know that there’s this groundswell of people who have reached out to her about considering the race,” said Kara Hollingsworth, a political consultant whose national firm helps Black women run for office. “Folks started talking to her about it before the recount in her race ever happened. On paper and in real life, she is exactly the kind of candidate Democrats should be reaching out to.”

According to a report in the New York Times, “Ms. Beasley has told people that she is considering a bid for North Carolina’s open Senate seat next year, according to one Democrat who has spoken to her.”

Former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, is seen as a likely candidate. McCrory, who lost a bitterly close reelection race in 2016 to Gov. Roy Cooper, currently hosts a top-rated radio talk show in Charlotte. But the politics bug hasn’t left him.

“Oh, I miss the leadership,” he said last summer in a telephone interview about Tillis and the 2020 U.S. Senate race. “I miss working with people like Thom. We accomplished a lot together. I hate to see a lot of it being disassembled right now.”

McCrory told WRAL in November that he would make a “decision some time next year” on whether he would “go back into public service.”

But in early February, he was not ready to talk about a Senate bid.

“Put me down as a big ‘no comment,’” McCrory said in a brief phone interview.

Who else is in the conversation?

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, has hinted that this will be his last term as speaker, including in a 2019 podcast interview. That timeline would leave Moore, who is in his 10th term in the state House, open to run for Burr’s seat in 2022.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, said he has nothing to say about a potential run, a stance that has not changed for several months. Foxx, who served under President Barack Obama, was Charlotte mayor from 2009 to 2013. The 49-year-old currently works for a New York-based development company.

N.C. Republican Party Chair Michael Whatley has not indicated publicly that he is considering a run, but the NC GOP’s censure of Burr made national headlines, and Whatley was at the forefront.

“Michael Whatley is focused on his role as the chairman for the North Carolina Republican Party and building on the party’s wins in the 2020 cycle,” NC GOP spokesman Tim Wigginton said when asked if Whatley was considering a run.

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat, said in December that she had been contacted by “grassroots folks wanting to have a strong progressive candidate in North Carolina.” But Earls said she is focused on being a good justice. “I am really honored to have this role on the Supreme Court, and all of my attention is focused on doing the absolute best job in this capacity.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, is still evaluating all opportunities in 2022 and 2024, strategist Morgan Jackson said. Stein was re-elected to a second term in November. The 54-year-old previously served in the state Senate. Stein could run for governor in 2024 when current Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, will be term limited and unable to run again.

Not running for Burr’s seat

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a Republican, told The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer in late November that he is not running. Meadows, a former congressman, served in the final months of Trump’s presidency — a tumultuous time as Trump dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, his reelection bid and the aftermath of his election loss. Meadows, who represented far Western North Carolina in the U.S. House from 2013 to March 2020 and co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, is now a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone or wherever you get your podcasts.

Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at [email protected]


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