The Senate race between Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators The Hill’s Campaign Report: It’s primary night in Georgia Tillis unveils new 0,000 ad in North Carolina Senate race MORE (R-N.C.) and Democrat Cal Cunningham in North Carolina is now a toss-up, according to The Cook Political Report.
The election handicapper moved the race to its most-competitive classification on Friday, three days after Cunningham clinched the Democratic Senate nomination in a four-way primary contest. Tillis also won his primary on Tuesday, though he faced only nominal opposition in the race.
In winning his party’s nomination, Cunningham overcame a challenge from progressive state Sen. Erica Smith. He carried a huge fundraising edge over Smith and headed into the primary with more than $1.4 million in the bank.
Cunningham was also the preferred candidate of national Democrats, winning the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last year.
His primary win on Tuesday puts him in a head-to-head match-up against Tillis, one of the most vulnerable Republican senators facing reelection in 2020.
Recent polls show an expectedly close race between Tillis and Cunningham. An East Carolina University survey conducted last month showed Tillis with a 2-point lead over Cunningham, while an NBC News-Marist poll fielded around the same time put Cunningham ahead by 5 points.
Internal polling from Tillis’s campaign from January showed the incumbent ahead of Cunningham by 4 points.
Tillis also has a financial cushion as he heads into his general election campaign. His pre-primary financial filings showed him with more than $5 million in cash on hand and, he spent significantly less than Cunningham in the lead-up to the Tuesday elections.
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North Carolina is a must-win for Democrats if they hope to recapture control of the Senate in November. They’re largely playing offense this year after a more defensive 2018 cycle in which they took a two-seat net loss.
This year, however, Democrats are hoping to flip seats in Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina and Maine, though they are also trying to hold back a Republican win in Alabama, where Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is expected to face a fierce battle for his seat.