The whole point of Cal Cunningham was that he was supposed to be boring. The North Carolina Democrat is not the most dynamic campaigner, but polls have consistently given him a lead over the Republican incumbent, Thom Tillis, in the race for U.S. Senate.
Now that lead is up in the air. On Thursday, a report revealed texts between Cunningham, a married father of two, and a Democratic strategist. The texts are less racy than, say, joggy; true to form for Cunningham, they’re rather dull. “Would make my day to roll over and kiss you about now,” he wrote in one. Cunningham acknowledged that the texts were real, apologized, and asked for privacy.
In a race as close as this one, even a comparatively tame scandal could shake up public opinions. (Tillis, meanwhile, is quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus.) And the stakes of the race are potentially much larger than who holds the Senate seat come January. North Carolina could be the tipping point that determines whether Republicans hold the Senate or Democrats take it over.
The scandal could also help clarify the American public’s views on sexual peccadilloes. I noted in 2018 that voters have mostly shrugged at credible accusations of infidelity against President Donald Trump. That is the latest in a string of cases that raise the question of whether Americans actually care about sexual indiscretion. How North Carolina voters respond to the Cunningham texts could provide some hint of whether, in the Trump era, such a vanilla scandal makes any difference—or whether Trump simply sits outside the rules.