Polls done after the affair news broke show the toll it has taken on Cunningham’s campaign, with most polls now being within the MOE and one showing significant movement among senior and female voters to Tillis.
It’s been a little over two weeks since news of North Carolina Democrat Senate nominee Cal Cunningham’s affair with the wife of an Army veteran first broke.
Since that time, Cunningham has only engaged with the media twice – once when he just happened to be spotted by a reporter outside a local Starbucks, and another during a disastrous informercial-turned-presser he did a week after he issued a statement of apology.
Cunningham, an Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel and father to two teenagers, dodged every single question he was asked about his affair with California strategist Arlene Guzman Todd in both instances.
The contrast between Cunningham’s media availability over the last two weeks versus his Republican opponent Sen. Thom Tillis’s is pretty stark:
Unanswered questions about Cal Cunningham’s misconduct continue to pile up.
North Carolinians deserve answers. pic.twitter.com/jyZhae5s2z
— Thom Tillis (@ThomTillis) October 17, 2020
Though he continues to avoid reporters, Cunningham cannot avoid the investigations and official complaints that have been launched or filed in the aftermath. To date, there are three:
1) Just a few days after the story of his affair with Guzman Todd broke, Raleigh-based WRAL reported that the Army Reserve had opened an investigation into Cunningham. The report also noted that “Adultery is listed as ‘unacceptable conduct’ by the military and may be ‘service discrediting.’”
2) The conservative watchdog group Americans For Public Trust has filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint alleging Cunningham illegally used campaign funds to facilitate his affair back in March during a trip to California.
3) Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Jason G. Davis filed a complaint requesting the Department of Defense’s Army Inspector General investigate Cunningham for what Davis believes is “a clear violation of Article 133: Conduct Unbecoming an Officer.” The complaint states:
Military Officers are held to the highest of moral and ethical standards, supporting the Army core values, which is the reason for this request of an exhaustive investigation into the ‘sexting’ relationship LT Cunningham admitted to the media on October 2, 2020. More text messages have now been reported, although not acknowledged by LTC Cunningham. An investigation must conclude the duty status of LTC Cunningham, as a member of the USAR, which would undoubtedly impact any potential violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. At a minimum, I would expect any investigation would conclude a clear violation of Article 133: Conduct Unbecoming an Officer.
The Tillis campaign has continued to keep the military aspect of Cunningham’s affair in the spotlight, conducting press and Zoom conferences with veterans who have expressed outrage:
Cal Cunningham’s dishonorable conduct has landed him investigations by the Army.
Now, veterans are speaking out against him. pic.twitter.com/t87Q2hTmwz
— Thom Tillis (@ThomTillis) October 15, 2020
Because Cunningham refuses to directly answer questions on this issue on grounds that the “campaign is not about” his personal life, it is unknown at this time whether or not the allegation of a second affair made by a former member of his state Senate steering committee in a Facebook comment is true.
In any event, multiple polls conducted since the affair story was first reported show the Senate race between Cunningham and Tillis is tightening up:
Despite what you’re hearing in the media and on the left, the Tillis/Cunningham Senate race in NC has tightened up since the Cunningham affair scandal broke, w/ most polls being w/in MOE & the WRAL/SurveyUSA poll appearing to be an outlier. #ncpol #ncsen https://t.co/heDhat7NMt pic.twitter.com/MDUDdIrEhJ
— Sister Toldjah 😁 (@sistertoldjah) October 18, 2020
One thing to note about that outlier WRAL/SurveyUSA poll that should be particularly concerning to the Cunningham campaign is the noticeable shift of key voting blocs to Tillis. Though the weighted poll showed “a 13-point month-on-month move to Cunningham” among men, it also reported significant movement of women and seniors towards Tillis in response to the affair story:
Senior citizens, who typically have more traditional views of marriage and fidelity, are turned-off by the salacious details. In September, Cunningham had led by 8 among voters age 65+ but now trails Tills by 6, a 14-point GOP swing.[…]
Among all women, who are often the jilted when a man breaks his marital vows, there is a 7-point shift to Tillis. Last month, 13% of women were undecided between Cunningham and Tillis; all of those undecided voters have picked the incumbent Republican.
Related to that, GOP pollster Glen Bolger posted a thread last week where he noted that the “data shows that the more voters learn about [the affair scandal], the more the race shifts back to Tillis”:
The heat is on. Cal Cunningham is banking on voters not learning about his lying to NC about his affair, and the fact that CC is being investigated by military for major code violations. The data shows that the more voters learn about this, the more the race shifts back to Tillis
— Glen Bolger (@posglen) October 14, 2020
You can read the full thread unrolled here.
This race is shaping up to in some ways to be a repeat of the Hagan/Tillis Senate race in 2014, where the incumbent Sen. Hagan was ahead in most polls until stories unfavorable to her reelection campaign hurt her in the home stretch.
In that instance, Tillis edged her out by about 50,000 votes in an election night nail-biter.
Will history repeat itself this time around? Only time will tell, but if recent polling is a reliable indicator this race, too, is going to go right down to the wire.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —