Former President Donald Trump's visit to Selma draws attention weeks from primary

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Saturday night, former President Donald Trump will appear with several Republican leaders and candidates in Selma, as he continues speaking engagements across the country.

Republicans, who are looking to regain control of the Senate and House, are preparing for an important midterm election.

"A lot of time, pollsters will ask how enthusiastic are you for the midterm elections. Republicans are 8-10 points higher than Democrats. So at least now, and again we are well out from the November elections, Democrats have got to be worried. But things can turn around," said Dr. David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College.

There are several races in North Carolina that will garner widespread attention, both in the primaries next month and the general election in November.

"I think all eyes are on North Carolina in terms of the Senate race, just because the Senate is 50/50, and we know however North Carolina goes is probably going to determine how the Senate goes," McLennan said.

Republican Richard Burr previously announced plans to retire, leaving a vacant seat. The four top Republicans vying for the seat are Congressman Ted Budd, former Gov. Pat McCrory, Congressman Mark Walker, and veteran Marjorie Eastman. In June, Trump publicly endorsed Budd at an NCGOP event in Greenville.

"Governor McCrory is the most well-known person in the race from a statewide perspective. Not only was he the governor of North Carolina, but he was the mayor of Charlotte for a long time. When he was mayor of Charlotte, that was his reputation - being more moderate, working within the business community. So I would think that would be a lane available to him. (Congressman) Walker doesn't have quite the same sort of reputation. He's really the question mark in the field. He doesn't seem to be polling well, doesn't seem to be doing a lot of fundraising. The question for McCrory is he wants to turn it into a two-person race between he and Budd. Walker may tend to damage (McCrory's) chances. Ted Budd is going down the Donald Trump lane. Marjorie Eastman is relatively new to the race. It's hard to know where she's going. So McCrory wants to turn this into Trump voters vs. other Republican and perhaps even unaffiliated voters who will vote in that primary kind of race. Walker's path to victory is a little uncertain," said McLennan.

Budd will be one of the speakers at Saturday night's event, where he'll be joined by Congressman Madison Cawthorn, Congressman Dr. Greg Murphy, Congressman Dan Bishop, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, and candidate Bo Hines.

"They are supporting blindly Trump's agenda and the Republican party's agenda. When I look at this agenda, it's not an agenda that benefits North Carolinians," said Floyd McKissick Jr., the North Carolina Democratic Party First Vice-Chair.

The event comes as Cawthorn is facing opposition from fellow Republicans, who have expressed growing frustration over recent remarks, with two, in particular, sticking out. In one instance, Cawthorn referred to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a "thug", and on a podcast, he alleged fellow Congressional members participated in orgies and used cocaine.

"I'm a voter in Western North Carolina. I'm a constituent in Western North Carolina. And I worked very hard as a grassroots volunteer to get Madison Cawthorn elected. Just like every other person in Western North Carolina, I'm disappointed in the decisions that he's made. I'm disappointed in the things that he's done. But right now, for the voters of Western North Carolina, if he were the one to come out of this primary, we stand a very good chance of losing the seat, because he's made himself unelectable," said Michele Woodhouse, a Republican challenging Cawthorn in the primary.

Cawthorn and Woodhouse had previously enjoyed a close working relationship. In December, ABC11 obtained a political document which outlined candidates he supported for 11 of the districts in the state. At the time, Cawthorn planned to run in the newly-drawn 13th district and included Woodhouse in the document for District 14. However, when those maps were struck down, Cawthorn went back to the 11th district, where he's now facing several opponents, including State Sen. Chuck Edwards, who has garnered the backing of Sen. Thom Tillis.

"This race isn't necessarily about my relationship with Madison at all. It's really about the fact that we have constituents in western North Carolina where we've had a congressman who's left and abandoned the district," said Woodhouse.

Woodhouse, who stated that she believes Trump won the 2020 election, acknowledged she is ideologically similar to Cawthorn, though she said she believed she can establish stronger relations with Congressional counterparts.

"It will be based on trust and listening. This is going there and listening and engaging and being a trusted team member within the Republican Caucus I think is critically important in building out those relationships," Woodhouse said.

Cawthorn won the district in 2020 by 12.3%, and McLennan notes despite a number of primary opponents, he's aided by a low threshold to avoid a run-off.

As for inner-party attacks, McLennan said he believes they likely won't have much importance in the general election.

"I think we're so polarized now between Republicans and Democrats that inner-party doesn't really hurt as much as we may have thought it did 20 years ago," said McLennan.
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