2020 Election

Cunningham’s Lead in North Carolina Plummets After Affair Scandal

Cal Cunningham / YouTube Screenshot

Democratic Senate nominee Cal Cunningham's polling lead in North Carolina against Sen. Thom Tillis (R.) has plummeted since the revelation of his extramarital affair, CBS 17 reported Tuesday.

"There has been an erosion in Cunningham’s numbers," Dr. Andrew Taylor, political analyst at North Carolina State University, told CBS 17. "It’s hard to attribute it to much other than the scandal surrounding Cunningham." 

According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Cunningham led Tillis in the polls by as much as a 9-point margin in August. After news of Cunningham’s affair broke this month, Cunningham’s lead has nearly vanished. The challenger now leads the polling average by only 1.3 points, and a new poll from Rasmussen Reports indicates the race is squarely tied.

Since news of the affair, Cunningham has all but disappeared from public media events. The veteran and married father of two has refused to answer questions about his affair and largely avoided public appearances. Instead, Cunningham sticks to tightly scripted virtual calls focusing on his policy agenda.

"I’ve taken responsibility for the hurt that I’ve caused in my personal life. I’ve apologized for it," Cunningham said earlier this month. "I’ve said what I’m going to say about it."

Tillis, meanwhile, has seized the opportunity to get back in the race. A leading voice on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tillis emerged at the forefront of the hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. He has also roundly criticized Cunningham for his part in the affair. 

"Now we know he’s not been truthful to his family and to the voters, and he’s not been honorable to the very uniform that he wears," Tillis said, referencing Cunningham’s potential violation of military protocol through the affair.

Cunningham is not the first North Carolina Democrat in recent memory to imperil his chances at higher office due to an affair. Former vice-presidential nominee, senator, and onetime White House hopeful John Edwards (D., N.C.) saw his political career end after reports emerged of his own dalliances while his wife was dying of cancer.