Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger locked in a competitive race with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., acknowledged exchanging intimate texts with a woman who is not his wife.
The candidate apologized in a Friday night statement released by his campaign but said he would remain in the race, one of the most closely-watched contests in the country as Democrats fight to retake control of the Senate.
“I have hurt my family, disappointed my friends, and am deeply sorry,” Cunningham said in the statement. “The first step in repairing those relationships is taking complete responsibility, which I do. I ask that my family’s privacy be respected in this personal matter.”
The revelation threatens to upend a race in which North Carolinians already have been casting absentee ballots since early September. Further roiling the contest, Tillis revealed Friday he has tested positive for the coronavirus, part of a wave of infections sweeping Republican leadership, including President Trump and two other GOP senators.
In the texts, first reported by NationalFile.com and confirmed as authentic by Cunningham’s campaign, the married father of two discusses setting up a rendezvous with Arlene Guzman Todd, a public relations strategist who is also married.
“Would make my day to roll over and kiss you about now,” Cunningham writes in one. In another, Todd texts Cunningham, “Pick a day, city, make up an excuse for the fam, ditch a staffer, starch your white shirt, and be ready to kiss a lot.”
There are no dates on the messages, but in one, Cunningham texts he is “nervous about the next 100 days,” which, if it referred to the election, would place it in late July.
Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said more information could be coming.
“These are very troubling allegations and Cal needs to be transparent with the voters of North Carolina,” Hunt said. “We know there’s more to this story. Cal knows there’s more to this story, and he needs to come clean with voters so they can make the appropriate judgment about whether he’s fit for office.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee indicated it is standing behind him. “North Carolinians are supporting Cal because he will protect health care coverage for preexisting conditions, fight to bring down the costs of prescription drugs, and help our country recover from this crisis,” DSCC spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua said in a statement. “We are confident that he will bring the same courage and determination to the Senate as he has while serving our country in uniform.”
Cunningham, a former state lawmaker and Army veteran, announced last week he had raised an eye-popping $28.3 million in campaign funds in the third quarter. Recent polls have shown him with a single-digit lead against Tillis, who is running for a second term.
“I remain grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state,” Cunningham said in his statement.
He is not the first politician to suffer an embarrassing leak of personal communications. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned from office when he was revealed to be sending lewd texts to a 15-year-old girl, behavior that landed him in federal prison for 18 months.
Last year, Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) resigned after the launch of an ethics inquiry into allegations of an affair with her legislative director that her then-husband first made on Facebook.