Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) declared victory over Democrat Cal Cunningham, who in the weeks before the election became embroiled in a scandal and admitted to sending sexually suggestive texts to a woman.
With 100% of the precincts reporting, Tillis leads by 96,000 votes. Unofficial results showed him with 2.64 million votes and Cunningham with 2.54 million votes. But more than 117,000 absentee ballots remain outstanding, and it was unclear how many will be returned, WRAL reported.
“What we accomplished tonight was a stunning victory,” Tillis said.
Cunningham was scheduled to speak at the Democratic Party headquarters in Raleigh on Tuesday, but around midnight, the party announced he would not deliver remarks.
The race is set to go down as the most expensive contest in Senate history, with the candidates and outside groups spending more than $287 million on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Early on, North Carolina was expected to be a win for the GOP in the Senate. But even after a sex scandal, the race grew tighter as Election Day approached. The final polling average tabulated by Real Clear Politics put Cunningham up by 2.6% — 47.6%b to 45%.
Democrats, meanwhile, saw the state as a bellwether, predicting that a win in North Carolina would bode well for the party across the rest of the U.S. As NPR put it: “Cunningham had all the advantages, but late-breaking reports of marital infidelity will test whether old-school political scandals still register with voters.”
Text messages obtained by The Associated Press showed Arlene Guzman Todd had a relationship with Cunningham that extended to an intimate encounter as recently as July. Cunningham, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, had sought to present a wholesome appeal until NationalFile.com published text messages between Cunningham and Todd, a public relations strategist from California.
“The newly obtained texts provide both a more specific timeline about their relationship, which shows it was recent, as well as details that describe intimate encounters — not simply a digital exchange,” the AP said. “In the text messages to her friend, Guzman Todd told her she was intimate with Cunningham in his home, which she later characterized as ‘weird.'”
In another exchange, Guzman Todd indicated that she was frustrated by the limited attention that he showed her. “I’m just going to send to his opponent his naked photos,” Guzman Todd wrote. “That will teach him.”
“You don’t deserve me Cal,” she said in a separate text message. She added in another, “He knows (that I) can tank his campaign.”
Todd later apologized. “A few months back, I displayed a lapse in judgment by engaging in a relationship with Cal Cunningham during a period of marital separation,” Guzman Todd said. “The relationship spanned several months and consisted primarily of a series of text exchanges and an in-person encounter.”