North Carolina state Sen. Jeff Jackson on Thursday bowed out of the race to be the Tar Heel state’s next US senator, largely clearing the Democratic primary field for former state Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley.
The move is a boon for Democrats. Although other Democrats have declared primary campaigns, Jackson’s departure one day ahead of the the state’s original filing deadline – the date was suspended by the state Supreme Court last week – makes Beasley the prohibitive favorite in the race, given her name recognition, fundraising and endorsement advantages over the remaining candidates. It also likely spares the party from what could have been an expensive primary ahead of an even more expensive general election.
Jackson made the announcement in a two-minute, straight to camera video where he endorsed Beasley and said “everyone needs to know when to step aside.”
“Cheri Beasley will be a great US senator for North Carolina,” Jackson said. “So today I am going to be her first endorsement as our party’s presumptive nominee. We have to come together right now.”
Jackson then referenced November’s elections in Virginia, where Democrats lost the Commonwealth’s three statewide elections and a series of down ballot races in place that President Joe Biden carried by 10 percentage points in 2020.
“We are headed into a tough one,” Jackson said. “A costly and divisive primary will sink this whole thing. We need to unite right now, and we need to unite behind Cheri.”
Beasley said in her own statement that she was “grateful” to have Jackson’s backing and commended him for the race he ran.
“This election is bigger than any one person,” Beasley said. “It is about the people of our state and having a Senator who will fight to lower health care costs, create good-paying jobs, take action on climate change, and work hard for every person in our state - no matter what your zip code is or how much money you make.”
Democrats are hopeful that an easier primary for Beasley will make her more competitive against the eventual Republican nominee, a process that has seen more involvement from former President Donald Trump.
The field on the Republican side is more crowded, with Trump endorsing conservative Rep. Ted Budd and directly urging former Rep. Mark Walker to end his Senate bid and run for the House instead, according to people familiar with the matter. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, who served as governor from 2013 to 2017 but lost his 2016 reelection bid to Democrat Roy Cooper, is also vying for the Senate seat.
Jackson referenced the messy Republican primary in his announcement.
“Pat McCrory and Ted Budd are gearing up to spend millions of dollars attacking each other in order to be the Republican nominee,” Jackson said. “If we are going to flip this seat, we can’t do that.”
Although Beasley is now the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic primary, other Democrats have declared bids in the Senate race, including Rett Newton, the former mayor of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Newton told CNN on Thursday that he is “very committed to this race” and intends to continue his campaign despite Jackson getting out, his admitted struggles with name recognition and many viewing Beasley as the presumptive nominee.
“This is a healthy thing,” Newton said of a primary. “Our political system is in crisis. These aren’t normal times. So, I am very much committed to this.”
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that Jackson left the race ahead of the state’s original filing deadline.