Ahead of the April primary, Republican candidate Bo Hines ran an ad in which he said, “Abortion is murder, and any Republican politician who doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in office.” In late June, the day the Dobbs v. Jackson decision was handed down, Hines said he would remain “proudly pro-life.”
It was the last day he mentioned abortion in a social media post. Earlier this week, Democrats noted that the 27-year-old candidate had removed references to abortion from his campaign website, despite his strong views on the issue earlier in the election cycle.
Hines is the Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 13th congressional district, which includes Johnston County and parts of Wake, Wayne and Harnett.
Hines may see the writing on the wall: In a highly competitive district, running a hard-right campaign is a risky strategy. A poll of 500 residents of the 13th arrondissement showed a slight majority have an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump and disapprove of Joe Biden’s current professional performance. Specifically for Hines, the majority of those interviewed said they didn’t like him or didn’t know how they felt about him.
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Even if he tries to adjust his strategy, removing a discussion topic from your website does not make you a moderate. Hines knows that publicly changing his tone on abortion could deter the most passionate in the party from coming out and voting for him, but being too vocal about his anti-abortion beliefs could deter moderates upset by the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Hines still posts “Endorsed by Donald Trump” on Facebook and Twitter, and he mentions it in a video on his campaign website. He may distance himself further from the former president, but he could also choose to realign himself with a more palatable hardline conservative.
Meanwhile, opponent Wiley Nickel talks about his time at center and splitting from other Democrats in the process. An ad his team released on Monday features the state senator saying he wants to fight extremism “in both parties,” citing the names of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as too-much-to-be members of Congress. left. He also said he would support “defunding the police,” an attempt to distance himself from a left-leaning talking point that Republicans keep bringing up (despite the fact that none of the major cities in North Carolina Nord has cut police spending since 2020).
He’s not the only Democrat trying to appeal to moderates; U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley rolled out the “Law Enforcement for Beasley” group and noted three specific ways she would work with Republicans on programs that would support police in her press release. She also chose not to meet Vice President Kamala Harris today, a decision she attributes to the campaign but surely wants to put some distance between the two.
Beasley’s opponent, Ted Budd, seems to tone down the culture wars arguments. Like Hines, he still has mentions of his endorsement of Trump on social media. But his recent ads have focused on the effect of inflation on the state, and the most partisan thing he’s done recently is a talk with Thom Tillis on the US-Mexico border. He still has abortion as a topic of discussion on his website, but he doesn’t really talk about it.
The candidates are faced with the political reality of North Carolina: We are almost perfectly divided in the political middle in the statewide races. But Republicans aren’t announcing their change in rhetoric, likely because they know isolating extremist party members means they won’t vote at all. The only person who notably calls out other Republicans, in fact, is Trump. When others have criticized the party, like Madison Cawthorn, the party rallies against them.
Appealing to North Carolina’s elusive “moderate voter” is not a new tactic. It feels more like politics than genuine passion for anything, especially when you publicly throw other members of your party under the bus. And just like the countless times this has happened before, it doesn’t fool anyone.