RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said on Thursday that he wants to participate in three televised debates ahead of the 2022 primaries, including one in late fall and two early next year.
He is competing against U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and former Rep. Marker Walker in his bid for the Republican Party's nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat.
The primary battle between the three candidates was thrown into disarray last month when former President Donald Trump abruptly endorsed Budd at the state party's annual convention, effectively making the contest a referendum on Trump's staying power.
McCrory is branding himself as a moderate Republican and Washington outsider who can win over independents. His campaign is seeking to make the case McCrory is the most electable candidate, arguing that Budd is too extreme ideologically and is appealing to a narrower swath of the electorate.
Meanwhile, Budd's campaign is quick to point out that McCrory lost two gubernatorial general elections in 2008 and 2016 and has been in politics for more than three decades. It also argues McCrory lacks momentum and enthusiasm.
McCrory took in more than $1.2 million between April and June, while Budd received about $700,000 in donations, according to reports the candidates filed last week with the Federal Election Commission.
Walker, who is also a staunch Trump supporter, took in more than $200,000 over the three-month stretch. He could emerge as the strongest challenger to McCrory if Budd falters or fails to gain widespread support among former Trump voters.
McCrory said in a news release that his campaign has contacted new outlets across the state to gauge their interest in hosting debates. He also took to Twitter on Thursday to call on his two competitors to agree to the debates.
“Despite our strong lead in the polls and fundraising, I believe all GOP primary voters need to be exposed to candidates’ records, accomplishments, plans for the future, and their pathway to victory in the general,” McCrory wrote.
Walker agreed to the debates but wants rural communities considered as potential locations. He replied to McCrory on Twitter, saying, “On the debate stage, Super PAC’s and DC money can’t protect a candidate with a bad record. Say when and where."
Jonathan Felts, a senior advisor to Budd, said the congressman hasn't discussed anything yet in terms of debates, noting that discussion “will be on my schedule, not McCrory’s.”
“Pat McCrory is a master debater,” Felts said. “But if he’s so fired up to present his ideas to the people, he ought to get out of Charlotte and start showing up at the grassroots events across North Carolina. We’re there. Congressman Walker is there. But usually, no McCrory.”
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.