Democrat Deborah Ross is taking on two-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr in a tight North Carolina race.
Ross grew up in Connecticut before she moved to North Carolina, a state where she received her law degree and represented the state’s 38th district for 10 years in the North Carolina Legislature. She’s tied Burr to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in television attack ads (Burr has said he’s forgiven Trump for crude remarks) and she used to work for the American Civil Liberties Union — part of what she’s using to attack Burr with.
Here’s what you need to know about Ross:
1. Ross Has Tied Burr to Donald Trump’s Controversial Comments
Like many Democrats throughout the country, Ross has tied her opponent to Trump and the public perception that Trump is not qualified for the presidency.
Asked about a 2005 video where Trump exchanged derogatory comments about women with then-Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush, Burr said, “I think what he said is indefensible, and I’m not going to try to defend him,” he told The News & Observer. “But as a son of a Presbyterian minister, my dad always taught me that when people ask for forgiveness, you should give it to them. He did that, and I’ve certainly forgiven him.”
North Carolina Democrats supporting Ross bought a TV ad, “Broadening the Debate,” which links Burr’s support to Trump.
Burr is on Trump’s national security advisory council, because of his spot on the Senate Senate Committee on Intelligence.
In a state where pollsters have Clinton leading slightly — the margin of error makes most polls almost a dead heat — the strategy might pay off for Ross.
Burr has maintained his support for Trump, adding in a debate, “We can make this race about Donald Trump or we can make it about a U.S. Senate campaign,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “My statement’s going to stand on Trump. And if there’s some revelation that changes my ability to support him, I will assure you that you will be the first to know.”
2. A Former ACLU Lawyer, Ross Said There Were Multiple Problems with The Sex Offender Registry
An ACLU internal memo surfaced during the campaign that showed Ross saying North Carolina’s sex offender registry “would make it even harder for people to reintegrate into society and start over and could lead to vigilantism.”
The issue, pounded by the Burr campaign, came up during the duo’s recent debate. In response to the allegations, Ross said, “Raising issues isn’t the same thing as opposing the bill,” according to the News & Observer. “The fact is that I voted 18 times to strengthen and update the sex offender registry. I’ll put my record of protecting women and children up against his any day of the week.”
In a fact-checking story, WBTV said Ross’ statements were misleading at best, even issuing a “False” grade on her statement. However, another local station, WFMY, fact-checked Burr’s attack ads about Ross opposing the sex offender registry, and deemed it false.
The Ross campaign maintains the Democrat voted to strengthen the sex offender registry 18 times during her tenure in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Ross, who worked for the ACLU before leaving to run for the North Carolina state House 14 years ago, pulled in the original bill’s sponsor, Fountain Odom, to appear in an ad:
“Senator Burr’s flat-out lying. And that’s why people hate politics,” Odom states in the ad.
According to the Washington Post, it’s possible the election for North Carolina’s next senator could boil down to how voters perceive this he-said, she-said sex offender registry claim.
3. The Human Rights Campaign & Emily’s List Are Among Some of Ross’ Endorsements
The national nonprofit advocating for LGBTQ rights, the Human Rights Campaign, is one of a few progressive organizations backing Ross in her bid.
“We’ve seen first-hand in North Carolina this year how important it is to elect candidates who are willing to stand up and fight for LGBTQ equality,” said HRC Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a statement. “Richard Burr believes in a world where LGBTQ people are left at risk for being fired because of who they are or whom they love. Even worse, six months after HB2 has become an economic disaster for North Carolina, Burr still won’t support a full repeal of HB2. Deborah Ross will advocate for the Equality Act in the U.S. Senate and help move us closer to full federal equality.”
Emily’s List, which says it “elects pro-choice Democratic women to office,” also supports Ross.
“Deborah has long been a champion for policies that give working families a fair shot, and when elected she will be a forceful advocate for women’s access to healthcare, ending gender discrimination in pay, and economic security for working families,” Emily’s List states about Ross.
“If there wasn’t an EMILY’s List, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Ross told Roll Call.
The Raleigh News & Observer endorsed Ross, too. Its editorial board said the 53-year-old liberal is what North Carolina needs in Washington: “As a former leader of the ACLU, as a progressive and effective state lawmaker and as a dynamic candidate, Ross has demonstrated that she will fight for what’s right and what’s needed, not what’s popular or what’s easy. North Carolina needs her smarts, her energy and her courage in the U.S. Senate. We urge you to put her there.”
4. With Low Name Recognition & A Four-Way Primary, Ross Has Been the Underdog
Supporters point to former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan as hope for a Ross victory. Hagan, of course, beat then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole in a nasty 2008 campaign that even led to a lawsuit. Hagan, a Democrat, defeated the Republican Dole during the 2008 presidential election, which proved to be a Democratic landslide throughout America.
The problem, however, is that Hagan only stayed around for one term. In the 2014 election, where Hagan was up for her first re-election bid, Republican Thom Tillis beat Hagan by a 2-point margin.
Hagan said she wouldn’t challenge Burr in 2016 — opening up the door for a four-way primary, which included Ross.
Ross won her March primary with 62 percent of the vote. The next-closest candidate was at 16 percent.
5. North Carolina’s Senate Race is Among the Top-Watched in the Nation
Because control of the U.S. Senate is at stake this election, political watchers are keeping an eye on North Carolina, which could be one of the seats Democrats could win to take a majority in the Senate. RealClearPolitics lists each party as having 46 Senators — leaving 8 tossups — even though in March, the Washington Post didn’t list the Burr-Ross competition as one of its top 10 Senate races this year.
Burr’s laid back attitude has allowed Ross to sneak up on the sitting senator, some Republicans told Politico. Because of the implications — a possible Democrat president in Hillary Clinton and one open Supreme Court seat — Democrats believe the Senate is within striking distance.
The battleground also includes the gubernatorial race, which pits incumbent Republican Pat McCrory against Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper is currently polling ahead of McCrory in another showdown expected to be extremely close.
Ross has painted Burr as a Washington insider, an out-of-touch legislator looking out for his own interests. Burr voted against the STOCK Act, which prohibits lawmakers’ use of information for private profit — regulations he called redundant. With Burr being one of three Congressmen to vote against it, Ross told CBS News, “Richard Burr went to Washington, got rich, and then was one of only three Senators to vote against banning insider trading for lawmakers and their staff.”
CBS News reported Burr’s personal financial disclosures and his legislative record since 2010 “show no evidence that he violated insider trading laws outlined by the STOCK Act.”