DURHAM, NC (AP) — North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley portrayed herself Monday as a bridge between law enforcement and the Democratic Party, appealing to moderate voters in one of the nation’s most competitive races for a seat in the narrowly divided hall.
Joined by more than a dozen current and former law enforcement officers at a press conference in Durham, Beasley announced new legislative priorities to strengthen public safety and repair the frayed relationship between her party and police.
The Democrat pledged to work with Republican lawmakers to secure funding for local law enforcement to train officers in de-escalation techniques, mindful responses to behavioral health crises and alternatives to the use of force. He also told sheriffs he would fight for federal funding to help rural departments deal with officer shortages and the ongoing opioid crisis.
With the Senate deadlocked 50-50, North Carolina is one of the few states where Democrats have a strong chance of flipping a seat this November. Beasley, a former state Supreme Court justice, will face Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, this fall.
Beasley distanced herself Monday from the “defund the police” movement — a progressive push to divest funds from police department budgets and reallocate them to social services and other community resources.
Popularized by Black Lives Matter activists during the 2020 protests over George Floyd, the slogan became a political weapon for Republican candidates in the last election cycle, giving them a vehicle to paint their Democratic opponents as anti-law enforcement.
“I don’t support defunding the police,” Beasley said Monday. “I know police officers need more funding … for recruiting, retention, training, mental health and addressing the opioid crisis. We need to be more realistic about the kinds of issues they face in our communities.”
Beasley is among several Democratic candidates in competitive races who have recently spoken out against the polarizing political movement.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and former Orlando police chief who is challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for his seat, pledged in a recent campaign ad to protect Floridians from “crazy” ideas like “defunding police”. And Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is running for a second term in one of the nation’s most contested gubernatorial races, called unjustified police shootings “isolated cases” and praised the state’s high law enforcement budget.
Budd said Monday that it is “dishonest” for Beasley to portray herself as favored by law enforcement. He touted his own endorsements from the North Carolina Troopers Association, a separate union that represents most border patrol officers and many local sheriffs, as evidence that he would be the best candidate to endorse officers and deputies.
The Beasley campaign is in a “desperate position as far as law enforcement is concerned,” Budd said after speaking to Christian ministers and their spouses at a Greenville church.
Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said Beasley has rightly criticized law enforcement, noting she was the first judge in the nation to invoke racial bias in the justice system after Floyd, 46, killed a white Minneapolis police officer. Black, in May 2020.
But Birkhead also described her as the only candidate in the race “that police officers can really count on.”
“She has shown her knowledge, her leadership and her advocacy,” the sheriff said. “People like her opponent talk a lot in support of us, but his (Budt’s) record speaks otherwise.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative staff. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow her on Twitter @H_Schoenbaum.