In his announcement video, the 49-year-old Winston-Salem native highlighted his upbringing in Davie County, noted he is a proud shooting range owner and embraced several culture war symbols. He alluded to six Dr. Seuss books a publisher will stop printing over racist and insensitive imagery, noting that he and his wife read Dr. Seuss books to their children and that “they turned out just fine.”
“The only trigger warning around here is keep your finger off it until you’re ready to fire,” Budd said.
Budd is the third major GOP candidate to enter the race. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory have also declared their Senate bids.
The congressman struggled in grade school with dyslexia, grew up on a farm and got an MBA from Wake Forest University. He worked for his family’s landscaping and janitorial business and created a company with his father that invested in agricultural businesses.
Budd went to Congress after getting the most votes in a 17-candidate GOP primary in 2016. He won the general election later that year and has been reelected twice. His 2016 campaign benefited from the Club for Growth super PAC, which spent about $500,000 during the primary to help introduce him to voters. The group immediately endorsed his senate campaign Wednesday.
He’s now looking to present himself as a political outsider with more relevant experience than his opponents.
“I’m the only one that brings a career in small business, not big government,” Budd said in a Wednesday afternoon interview. “I’ve made payroll, I’ve created jobs, I’ve felt the sting of high taxes, I've grown up on a family farm here in Davie County. I think I’m the only one that brings that combination to the race.”
Central to Budd’s campaign will be issues of immigration, religious liberty and the economy. But perhaps even more critical is the former president's support.
Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara, has not yet ruled out a senate run. Budd said he met with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday and Friday and also communicated with Lara Trump last week.
“I can’t tell you what she’s gonna decide personally, but I can tell you that she’s a good friend and we’re both very supportive of each other," Budd said, noting he did not secure the former president's endorsement as Trump gives space for his daughter-in-law to enter the contest if she so desires.
Budd was among the first to announce that he would not vote to certify the presidential election results in favor of Biden on Jan. 6. While he wouldn't go so far as to acknowledge that Biden fairly won key battleground states, he does consider his presidency “legitimate.”
“He won the vote on Jan. 6, and I think he is the legitimate president," Budd said. "He went through the process. I think there’s lots of question marks along the way, but, at the end of the day, he is the legit president.”
State Sen. Jeff Jackson and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley are the top Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for the 2022 election.
Bobbie Richardson, chairman of North Carolina’s Democratic Party, said in a statement that Budd is a “far-right Freedom Caucus extremist” who “followed Donald Trump off the election fraud cliff when he undermined our democracy, spread dangerous and false conspiracy theories, and fought to overturn the election results even after the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th.”
Budd joined the House Freedom Caucus after arriving to Congress. He was one of seven Republican members in North Carolina’s congressional delegation this year who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
As it sits now, the race has the feel of a 2-on-1 contest, with Walker and Budd's campaigns more forcefully criticizing McCrory.
In a statement, Walker welcomed Budd's candidacy but took aim at McCrory by alluding to his 2008 and 2016 gubernatorial election defeats.
“All conservatives in North Carolina must stand together so we do not elect another establishment politician to the Senate who says one thing when running and does another when elected,” Walker said, adding that the party "must stay grounded in finally giving our state conservative leadership in the Senate and not gambling on a career politician who has lost more statewide races than he’s won.”
Including his primary victories, McCrory has won more statewide races than he's lost. McCrory began his political career in 1989 on Charlotte's City Council and later became the city's longest-serving mayor.
“Ted ran for office in 2016. Pat McCrory ran for office in 1989,” said Jonathan Felts, a childhood friend of Budd's and senior adviser to the campaign. "If you want to label one of those a career politician, I think it's pretty clear which one that would be.”
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.