Pressure Mounts on Cal Cunningham to Leave Basement, Address Nerdy Sext Scandal

October 6, 2020

Cal Cunningham, the Democratic candidate for Senate in North Carolina, has gone into hiding since becoming embroiled in an embarrassing sexting scandal late last week. The married father of two would probably prefer to run out the clock until Nov. 3, but pressure is mounting on Cunningham to address the scandal in front of voters.

Cunningham, who was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's handpicked candidate to challenge incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), asked for "privacy" after admitting to sending a series of sexual text messages to a married woman in California. He backed out of a long-scheduled town hall event on Monday, hours after allegations of a second affair were reported by a former Washington Free Beacon employee, and his opponents are hitting the airwaves.

Tillis said Cunningham owes voters a "full and thorough explanation" of his deviant behavior. "Cal is trying to finesse it as an errant text, but we now have a second report," Tillis said during an interview with Fox News on Tuesday. "On the debate stage last week, Cal said it's about integrity and I agree. His family should be kept private, he's got teenage children, but Cal owes North Carolinians, all of the voters a full and thorough explanation."

Republican-aligned outside groups have released a number of attack ads focused on Cunningham's sext scandal. In one ad titled, "Married Father," the Senate Leadership Fund asks a question presumably on the minds of many voters: "What else is he hiding?"

Another ad from another GOP-aligned group, Results for NC, has produced a 15-second digital ad targeting independent voters in the state's metro areas. It portrays Cunningham as a "dishonest" and "unfaithful" man who "betrayed our trust" by "leading a double life and taking advantage of someone else's family." The ad goes on to compare Cunningham to one of the most prominent philanderers in the history of North Carolina politics, closing with the line: "We don't need another John Edwards in the Senate."

Professional journalists based in D.C. and New York might not care about Cunningham's behavior. Even local journalists have seemed more than willing to accommodate the candidate's demands. But they couldn't ignore the extramarital scandal, even if the sexts themselves were painfully boring. Who knows what other allegations might come to light in the coming weeks?

Schumer and the Democratic establishment wanted a candidate who would stay "in a windowless basement raising money," but Cunningham couldn't help himself. And he might have cost the Democrats control of the Senate in 2021.