The month of October keeps going from bad to worse for North Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Cal Cunningham, and we’re barely into the first week of it.

To recap for everyone how bad things have gotten for him, let’s do a quick day-by-day rundown of what’s happened so far before we get into the latest developments:

Thursday: News broke of the “sexting” relationship involving Army veteran Cunningham, who is married and has two teenage children, and California consultant Arlene Guzman Todd — whose husband is also an Army veteran.

Friday: After his campaign confirmed the texts first reported by were genuine, Cunningham issued a statement Friday night apologizing for what happened, and said he would stay in the race. At that point, the belief was that the sexting was just sexting and nothing beyond that.

Saturday/Sunday: Cunningham’s campaign and social media feeds go dark. His Facebook ads get scaled way back.

Monday: At the last minute, Cunningham backed out of a scheduled town hall with no explanation. It just so happened that on the day of the town hall, he was hit with another explosive allegation, this time from a former member of his state Senate steering committee who claimed in a Facebook comment that a friend of hers had been having an affair with Cunningham since 2012.

Tuesday: Though the second alleged affair has not been confirmed nor denied, the Associated Press spoke to his sexting partner Guzman Todd herself and confirmed she and Cunningham took their relationship to the next level (ahem) by conducting an intimate affair out of his home as late as July of this year.

Wednesday: Raleigh-based WRAL reported that the Army Reserve was opening an investigation into Cunningham. The report also noted that “Adultery is listed as ‘unacceptable conduct’ by the military and maybe ‘service discrediting.’”

A local reporter from CBS 17 happened to catch Cunningham out and about Wednesday morning and interviewed him about the scandal. Cunningham, who also had mask issues during the interview, repeatedly refused to answer questions about the matter, claiming the campaign was “not about my personal life”:

Wednesday night during a virtual event for a North Carolina environmental group, Cunningham bizarrely seemed to blame his opponent, Sen. Thom Tillis, for the affair scandal:

“Because Thom Tillis knows that he is losing and knows that we are winning, he has now resorted to trying to make this campaign about something other than the issues. But we know, I know, this campaign is about your hopes and your dreams,” he said.

That’s a laughably absurd claim. This scandal broke Thursday, and Tillis himself, who tested positive for the Wuhan Coronavirus on Friday, did not even comment on it until Tuesday, saying Cunningham owed North Carolina voters a “full and thorough explanation.”

And now that he has, the campaign has gone full steam ahead with an ad blasting Cunningham for his conduct and touching on the military aspect. The ad ends with a video clip of Tillis walking hand and hand with his wife, Susan Tillis:

That is flat brutal and makes some solid points – mainly that Cunningham has brought this all on himself.

I’ve had many people asking me how much, if any, this has changed the course of this key Senate race, considering polls up until last week showed Cunningham in the lead.

I sense that the tide has turned against Cunningham, perhaps not by a ton but maybe by just enough that Tillis can really capitalize on the scandal and move undecided, independent, and conservative Democrat voters in his direction. Only two polls have been taken since the scandal broke, with one from a Democrat pollster showing no change and another showing Tillis up by one. Cook Political still ranks the race as a “toss-up.”

But if this continues to drag out as it has for the last week, it is bound to take effect in polling at some point.

There’s also a sense of déjà vu here, not just because of the comparisons to John Edwards but also because in 2014, when Tillis ran against Sen. Kay Hagan (D), he was down in the polls then as well. Still, some negative stories about Hagan in October changed the direction of that race towards the end, and he ended up winning it in an election-night nailbiter.

Cunningham claiming this campaign is not about his personal life is a real knee-slapper, and here’s why:

From the start, Cunningham has run an Andy Griffith “family guy, character matters, man of honor” campaign, the type you typically see from politicians in the South. He frequently mentions his time served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of his campaign ads even end with him saying, “in North Carolina, the truth still matters.”

He’s framed his whole campaign around his upstanding character, devotion to his family and the military, how the truth matters, etc. He doesn’t get to suddenly dial it back when it’s inconvenient to his political ambitions.

He’s had at least one affair, possibly two, going on while running a campaign based on the family/military man persona in a state that is not only home to Fort Bragg and other military installations but which also is still deeply religious.

This is going to end up negatively impacting him, even if the polling doesn’t reflect it. How much it does is the million-dollar question and one we won’t have an answer to until November 3rd.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —


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