I’ve talked with some political professionals this past week and they tell me there is not much in the way of truly undecided voters at the top of the ballot (president, senator, governor). Republicans have been licking their chops over L’affaire Cunningham — convinced that it will push their candidate (who has performed rather anemic in the polls since 2014) over the top.
You have to stop and think. Remember all the salacious stuff that came out about Trump in 2016? It didn’t even slow him down. Conservative-leaning voters who were already strongly leaning toward the Republican ticket will definitely be furious at Cunningham. But did he ever HAVE them in the first place?
The John Edwards comparisons really don’t work.
A couple of high-powered operatives told me that a decision by the Army to punish Cunningham before Election Day could be the death blow for the Democrat’s campaign. Word has already emerged that the Army is opening an investigation. (Not surprising — Tillis sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.)
Well, the drive-bys appear to be finding that quite a few Democrat and Democrat-leaning women are still seeing Cunningham as “the lesser of two evils”:
Charlotte Democrat Laura Meier had a gut reaction to revelations of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham’s affair with a married California woman.
“(I was) furious, and that’s putting it lightly,” said Meier, co-president of the Charlotte Women’s Movement. “We have an incredible shot at changing the course of the Senate. And he does this!”
But to her, the prospect of flipping the Senate trumps bad behavior.
“So I’m going to vote for Cal Cunningham,” said Meier, a candidate for Mecklenburg commissioner. “It pains me but I am.”
Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic and unaffiliated women showed that, at least for now, many continue to support Cunningham despite news reports of his affair with Arlene Guzman Todd, the wife of an Army veteran.
The Army is investigating Cunningham, a married lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Extramarital affairs violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Wednesday night, in his first public appearance since the news broke, Cunningham apologized “for the hurt that I have caused in my personal life and I also apologize to all of you.” He spoke during a live-streamed event by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters.
“I have talked to some Democratic women who are pulling back,” said Democratic commissioner Pat Cotham. “It’s the judgment error that affects all of us in North Carolina. The information is slow to come out. … Not everybody gets the same news at the same time. It’s going to take a few days for it to sink in.”
Cunningham’s contest against Republican Tillis, which already has seen record spending, is considered one of the key races that will determine control of the Senate.
That’s why Amanda Roncevich, an unaffiliated voter from Charlotte, still plans to vote Democratic.
“Cal Cunningham showed poor judgment and stupidity,” said Roncevich, a business consultant. “I’m very sorry he did what he did, but we need to get Tillis out. … I’ve talked to a few women friends and we’re just so disappointed that what should have been a clear-cut decision has now been clouded by emotional stupidity.”
‘NO PERFECT PEOPLE’
Julia Jordan-Zachery, who chairs the Africana Studies Department at UNC-Charlotte, said the impact of Cunningham’s affair will depend on how it’s framed.
“The person who can control the narrative wins,” she said. “So this is going to come down to whose able to control this narrative. … Now he’s behind in controlling the narrative.”
One GOP group launched a $4 million ad campaign about the affair this week. And in a statement, the Tillis campaign said, “The U.S. Senate race in North Carolina has been dramatically and permanently altered, not by sex, but by the hypocritical lack of judgment and truthfulness now fully on display by Cal Cunningham. … This unfolding episode destroys the foundation of Cunningham’s campaign by demonstrating that he cannot be trusted at any level.”
But Jordan-Zachery said women like her can separate their disgust over personal behavior from what they see as bigger issues.
“Because I’ve grown up in politics with flawed candidates, as a Black woman I’ve been forced to make these kinds of distinctions,” she said.
Connie Green-Johnson, a former president of Mecklenburg Democratic Women, said, “No one is immune from making bad judgments.”
“We revere Thomas Jefferson and he raped one of his enslaved people,” she said. “Then we have someone in the White House who has been accused of many things and he got elected.”
President Donald Trump, like President Bill Clinton, has been accused of multiple sexual improprieties.
“We’re looking for perfect people,” said Democratic Rep. Carla Cunningham of Charlotte. “And there are no perfect people.”
‘EMOTIONAL’ VS. ‘POLITICAL’ JUDGMENT
State Sen. Terry Van Duyn of Asheville said issues such as climate change and income disparity are priorities for her.
“There are so many huge issues and we have been so disappointed with Congress over the years,” she said. “That really affects the lives of my constituents a lot more than Cal’s personal relationship with his wife. As unfortunate as that is. … It’s not that I think (the affair) is OK. It’s that I want to elect a person who represents the rest of my values.”
Charlotte Democrat’s Jill Dinwiddie, former executive director of the N.C. Council for Women, said, “All of the women I’ve spoken to about it are going to go ahead and vote for him anyway because the outcome of not voting (for) him is too horrific.”
“The idea that this race is pivotal in flipping the Senate,” she said, “is first and foremost in most good Democrats’ minds.”
Lisa Ellsworth, president of the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County, called Cunningham’s actions “personal behavior I would not condone. But I think our choices are pretty stark right now,” she said.
Roncevich said she can compartmentalize what the affair says about Cunningham’s judgment.
“I think that emotional judgments are made at a different level than political judgment or financial judgment,” she said. “So I think it’s in a different category. I would hope that his emotional lapses would not affect his ability to represent me the best he can.”
Tricia Cotham, a former Mecklenburg Democratic lawmaker, said it may take time for polls to reflect the damage to Cunningham’s campaign.
“Within a week there could be a shift (in support),” she said, adding that Republicans “are certainly going to saturate the airwaves.”
Meier, of the Charlotte Women’s Movement, said many women are “disgusted” by what’s come to light so far about the affair.
“But we feel our hands are tied,” she said. “Here we go with that old tired phrase — the lesser of two evils.”