Democrat Cal Cunningham concedes to GOP Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina Senate race

Key Points
  • Democrat Cal Cunningham conceded to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in the North Carolina Senate race.
  • The contest is one of the final uncalled 2020 Senate elections as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the chamber.
  • Later Tuesday, NBC News projected that Tillis was indeed the winner.
Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham, North Carolina
Reuters; AP

Democrat Cal Cunningham conceded Tuesday to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, one of the last undecided contests in the fight for control of the chamber.

Later Tuesday, NBC News projected that Tillis was indeed the winner. Tillis leads Cunningham by fewer than 2 percentage points with some votes outstanding.

In a tweeted statement, Tillis said Cunningham called him to concede Tuesday afternoon, a week after Election Day. The senator said his first priority after returning to Washington "will be defeating COVID-19 and getting the economy back on track."

In his own statement, Cunningham said "the voters have spoken and I respect their decision." He said he will "be proud of the work we did together to lift up the voices of North Carolinians who felt left behind by our politics."

North Carolina was seen as a potential tipping point as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the Senate and the ability to shape U.S. policy for at least the next two years. Tillis' victory ensures the GOP enters January with at least 49 Senate seats. Democrats will have at least 48 after flipping one net seat in the 2020 races so far.

Georgia will hold at least one runoff in January to determine the majority.

Tillis leaned into his support for President Donald Trump during the final stretch of his first term in office. The 60-year-old senator voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett only eight days before the election amid criticism of Republicans' swift action to fill the court seat.

Illustrating his difficulty in balancing the competing interests in his state, Tillis last year wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying he would oppose the president's executive action to redirect military funds toward border walls — only to reverse course and back Trump's move.

The president leads Democratic President-elect Joe Biden by about 1.3 percentage points in North Carolina. NBC has not yet called the race in the state.

Cunningham, a former state senator, ran as an independent-minded candidate in the swing state. The 47-year-old Army Reserve lieutenant colonel used a heavy fundraising haul in the final months of the campaign to push a health-care-focused message.

But confirmation of a romantic entanglement with a woman who was not his wife appeared to hit his standing in the state during the final stages of the race. Still, Cunningham had a thin edge in polling averages heading into the election.

Tillis temporarily had to leave the campaign trail in October after he tested positive for Covid-19. He returned to the Capitol for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Barrett's confirmation.

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