RALEIGH — North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis has won reelection to the Senate, defeating Democrat Cal Cunningham after a hard-fought campaign and days of counting ballots, the AP reported.
Republicans now have 50 Senate seats in the next Congress, compared with 48 for Democrats. Control of the chamber will be decided by two January runoffs in Georgia, with Republicans needing to win one more seat for a majority. Democrats would win control if it ends up a 50-50 tie because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the tiebreaker.
The North Carolina campaign was marked in the final weeks by Cunningham’s acknowledgment of an extramarital affair and Tillis' COVID-19 diagnosis.
Cunningham outraised Tillis this year, but Tillis benefited from the fallout after the Democrat admitted to a recent extramarital relationship with a public relations consultant.
Cunningham conceded the race on Tuesday, saying that “the voters have spoken” and that it was clear Tillis had won.
‘Voters have spoken’: Cunningham concedes to Tillis in race for US Senate seat
A week after Election Day, Democrat Cal Cunningham has conceded in the race for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.
Cunningham conceded to incumbent Tillis on Tuesday, saying “the voters have spoken” and it was clear Tillis had won.
Tillis led Cunningham by more than 95,000 votes, or 1.76 percentage points. The race was too early to call Tuesday, with votes still uncounted.
Cunningham issued the following statement after conceding to Tillis:
“I just called Senator Tillis to congratulate him on winning re-election to a second term in the U.S. Senate and wished him and his family the best in their continued service in the months and years ahead.
”The voters have spoken and I respect their decision. While the results of this election suggest there remain deep political divisions in our state and nation, the more complete story of our country lies in what unites us: our faith and sense of confidence in our democracy, our civic values and common humanity, our shared aspiration to care for one another, and our belief that we live in a country that does exceptional things.
“I’ll always be proud of the work we did together to lift up the voices of North Carolinians who feel left behind by our politics. I want to thank my entire campaign team for their hard work, the countless volunteers and supporters who joined our effort, the North Carolinians who turned out to vote in record numbers to participate in our great democracy, and the election officials who worked in the face of a dangerous pandemic to administer this free and fair election.
”The end of this campaign does not mark the end of our need to improve access to health care, strengthen education, heal racial wounds, and create better jobs. These are causes that still must be championed.
“Though this isn’t the electoral outcome we worked for, I’ll always be grateful to be a North Carolinian, and I’ll always believe that our country’s best days are ahead.”
Cunningham lost despite outraising Tillis during what became the most expensive U.S. Senate race in U.S. history. Altogether, the two campaigns and outside groups spent $282 million on the general election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Tillis benefited from fallout over a Cunningham sex scandal in the campaign’s final month. Cunningham admitted to a recent extramarital relationship with a public relations consultant. Tillis said Cunningham’s emphasis on his personal story in the campaign made the misconduct a defining issue.
Tillis was one of President Donald Trump’s strongest defenders during impeachment but was criticized by the GOP base last year when he initially took a stance opposite the president on how to fund the border wall. Tillis later changed his mind.
“Earlier this afternoon, Cal Cunningham called me to offer his concession. This was a hard-fought campaign and I wish nothing but the best to Cal and his family going forward.
”I am incredibly humbled by the chance to serve the people of North Carolina in the United States Senate for six more years and I pledge to continue keeping my promises and delivering results.
“I know that my job is fighting for the jobs of the hardworking people of our state, which is why my first post-election priority will be defeating COVID-19 and getting the economy back on track. North Carolinians have a solid record of weathering storms and coming back stronger than ever. I am confident that we all can come together and meet this moment and am ready to get to work.”
“This was a hard-fought campaign and I wish nothing but the best to Cal and his family going forward,” Tillis said in a statement. “I am incredibly humbled by the chance to serve the people of North Carolina in the United States Senate for six more years and I pledge to continue keeping my promises and delivering results.”
The race in the presidential battleground state was already being closely watched before word of both Cunningham’s extramarital admission and Tillis' coronavirus diagnosis upended it in early October.
Tillis tested positive for COVID-19 several days after attending a White House event announcing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Unlike most people at the event, Tillis wore a face mask, but he took it off once indoors. Many attendees — including Trump — later tested positive.
Tillis campaigned on a record of passing Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, confirming conservative judges and helping the country recover from the pandemic. Cunningham, 47, is a Raleigh attorney and U.S. Army Reserve officer.
It was also still too early to call North Carolina’s presidential race and several other statewide races. Trump led President-elect Joe Biden by more than 73,000 votes.
North Carolina counties had yet to process about 27,500 absentee ballots and about 23,000 provisional ballots. In addition, approximately 93,000 voters requested absentee ballots that had not yet been received as of Tuesday afternoon. Ballots postmarked by Election Day can be counted as long as they are received by Thursday.
With Cunningham’s concession, all eyes turned to Georgia, where two U.S. Senate runoff races in January are likely to determine the balance of the upper chamber.
With votes still uncounted and the races in North Carolina and Alaska still too early to call Tuesday, the Senate remained tied 48-48. Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan is favored for another term against Al Gross, an independent running as a Democrat. If the Senate ended up tied 50-50, Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would wield the tiebreaking vote.
Georgia is closely divided, with Democrats making gains on Republicans, fueled by a surge of new voters. But no Democrat has been elected U.S. senator in 20 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Cox Media Group