Former President Donald Trump on Saturday endorsed GOP Rep. Ted Budd in the North Carolina Senate race, making a surprise pick in a key contest for Republicans aiming to flip control of the chamber next year.
Trump’s endorsement came on stage as he addressed Republicans at the state party’s convention in Greenville, N.C., the former president’s first major speech in months. He announced his support of Budd shortly after his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, told the crowd that she would not run for Senate.
Trump’s endorsement is a major boost for Budd, who is running against former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker in the Senate primary. The three are running in the primary to replace GOP Sen. Richard Burr, who is not seeking another term.
North Carolina is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country next year as Democrats defend their 50-50 Senate majority.
"I am giving him my complete and total endorsement. We’re going to work with him. We’re going to campaign with him," Trump said Saturday night, before adding a subtle dig at McCrory, who lost races for governor in 2008 and 2016. "You can’t pick people that have already lost two races and do not stand for our values."
"Mr. President, Lara, this means the world to me. Thank you," Budd said after Trump summoned him to the stage. "We got a lot of hard work ahead."
Budd has courted Trump since prior to launching his bid. He traveled to the former president’s South Florida home several days before formally announcing his Senate campaign earlier this year. Walker, who was the first candidate in the race, also met with Trump earlier this year.
After Trump’s speech, McCrory approached a small group of reporters in the room to address Trump’s endorsement. “I think the president got some bad advice in selecting a Washington insider," he said, adding that "you could tell by the audience’s reaction.”
Pressed by a reporter if former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Trump’s former chief of staff, was the one giving Trump "bad advice," McCrory said, "That may be a good pick."
Walker, in a statement prior to the Trump speech, touted his win over the two competitors in a straw poll conducted at the convention.
“Our team is working harder, growing faster, focused on the people of North Carolina, and determined to win this race and finally give our state a real conservative senator,” Walker said.
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report from Greenville, N.C.