Attorney Cal Cunningham has defeated state Senator Erica Smith in the Democratic primary and will take on Senator Thom Tillis this fall.

The Associated Press called the race shortly after the polls closed Tuesday. 

Surrounding by his family and supporters, Cunningham addressed supporters at the NC Democratic Party’s gathering at Traine Raleigh.

“With the votes counted tonight, working together we are one step closer to replacing Thom Tillis,” Cunningham told the cheering crowd. 

Cunningham raised over $4.5 million in the race after gaining the backing of the party’s power brokers at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Erica Smith, a three-term state senator, raised less than $300,000.

Smith ended up receiving help from an unlikely source: Faith and Power PAC, backed by the Mitch McConnell-allied Senate Leadership Fund, financed over $2 million in ads to help give Smith a boost. But Cunningham had help from his own, with over $7 million in ad buys from The Vote Veteran Action Fund and Carolina Blue. 

With more than 99 percent of precincts in, Cunningham was up 57–35. 

Smith, who was not at the watch party event, conceded the race by thanking her supporters in a tweet. 

“We had an extraordinary run,” Smith wrote. “We took on a giant and while we came up short- we remain in this to win this for all of us and I’ll see you on the trail again.”

Cunningham promised to be back on the campaign trail Wednesday morning.

“Tomorrow we don’t rest. I’m hitting the road again tomorrow morning on the next step on a path to victory in November,” Cunningham said. 

Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at

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