Republican Burr clings to slim lead in key Senate race amid criticism

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrExclusive investigation on the coronavirus pandemic: Where was Congress? Trump asserts his power over Republicans FISA ‘reform’: Groundhog Day edition MORE is playing defense in the final days of a razor-tight Senate race that could decide which party controls the upper chamber.   

Polls have seesawed for weeks over whether Burr or his Democratic challenger Deborah Ross has momentum in the homestretch. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showing Ross up 4 points was immediately followed with local TV station survey with the GOP senator up 6 percent.  


Burr, who is leading by a point and a half on average, has little room for error if he wants to squeak out a win and help his party retain control of the Senate. Democrats need to pick up five seats—or four if they win the White House—to steal back the majority.  

Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and an assistant professor of political science at the North Carolina-based college, said Burr’s focus should be on doing no harm to his own campaign.  

The “best strategy… is to simply not mess up and hope [Donald] Trump doesn’t do something to depress turnout,” he said.  

He estimated that Burr probably has a “very slight lead” ahead of Tuesday but the race—like a handful of other crucial states—is too close to call.  

Yet Burr has spent the final days taking fire on the multiple fronts. The GOP senator’s campaign has had to backpedal over leaked comments he made during a meeting with volunteers.  

“Nothing made me feel any better than I walked into a gun shop…there was a copy of a rifle magazine on the counter. It’s got a picture of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE on the front of it. I was a little bit shocked at that — it didn’t have a bullseye on it,” Burr said in the meeting, according to audio posted online by CNN. 

He pledged during the same meeting to block any Supreme Court nominee from a President Clinton and appeared to brag while claiming responsibility for President Obama’s longest judicial vacancy.  

Democrats and editorial boards in North Carolina seized on the remarks. Democrats contend it helps drive home their months-long argument in the final week of the campaign: That Burr is more interested in playing partisan politics in Washington than helping North Carolinians.  

The GOP senator ultimately apologized for his gun comments. He also softened his Supreme Court comments saying he would assess the record of any nominee.  

But that’s done little to stem the flow of national criticism. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) lambasted Burr Friday saying he had a “nightmare week.”  

“The last full week before Election Day went about as bad as it could have gone for the Senator,” the outside group said.  

President Obama also took a swing at Burr while in the state campaigning for Clinton, arguing Burr’s court comments reflect the “gridlock” that has at times ground Congress to a halt.  

“Gridlock is what happens when Republican politicians like Richard Burr decide, not based on the merits… but based on political calculation, that they are going to oppose anything that is good for the country just because a Democrat proposes it,” he said. “And that’s essentially Richard Burr’s campaign platform at this point.”  

Husser, from Elon, questioned how much impact the fallout from Burr’s comments would have on undecided voters who are being inundated by ads for the White House fight and the governor’s race, while noting it probably helped activate the GOP base.  

Burr’s troubles come as his campaign’s decision to blacklist a top newspaper in the state from getting his campaign schedule drew widespread comparisons to Trump, who has banned certain reporters from being to attend his rallies. 

But Republicans remain bullish on Burr’s chances. They’ve also pounced on a video released by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas that shows a Ross donor at a September fundraiser making racist comments. 

Burr’s campaign quickly denounced the video, calling it “hateful, racially charged rhetoric.” Cole Leitr, a spokesman for Ross, told Raleigh News & Observer they are donating a $200 contribution to a “the North Carolina disaster relief fund to help those affected by Hurricane Matthew. 

Asked about Democrats’ criticism of Burr, campaign spokesman Jesse Hunt, countered that Ross is too liberal for North Carolina. He argued her tenure leading the state’s American Liberal Civil Union chapter was “marred by dangerous action.”  

“Ross’s decision to fight against common-sense measures such …[as] creating a sex offender registry and instituting a 48-hour ‘cooling off’ period for domestic abusers showed she’s a radical who will put her far-left ideologue ahead of the interests of innocent North Carolinians,” he said.  

Ross’s campaign argues Burr is taking her concerns—outlined in a 1995 ACLU memo—about a bill to create a public sex offender registry out of context. Ross added during a Senate debate last month that she “voted 18 times to strengthen and update” the sex offender registry while serving in the North Carolina House of Representatives. 

GOP-aligned outside groups are pouring in late money to help push Burr across the finish line.  

Four groups, including the Senate Leadership Fund which is linked to Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.), are expected to drop just shy of $4 million in the final week of the race.  

Most political handicappers have rated the race as a “toss up,” though Nate Silver’s 538 gives Burr a nearly 64 percent chance of winning reelection. Both parties agree no matter who comes out on top the margin in the race will be close.  

National Republicans have questioned Burr’s reelection strategy for months arguing he hasn’t been aggressive enough and waited too long—until late August—to go up on air.  

Hussler added while Burr has “picked up stream,” he predicted he likely “would have started [earlier]” if he knew the race would be close just days before the election.  

But Burr brushed aside criticism about his campaign, telling the National Review that “there are a lot of people in Washington who would like me to change my style.”  

“I mean, there are a lot of things they would like me to do that normal candidates running for the United States Senate do,” he said. “Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for 24 years. I’m not gonna change.”

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