North Carolina is one of the most important Senate races on the map. Spending in the contest is already close to $200 million, and it’s on track to be the most expensive Senate election in history. Republicans have seized on Cunningham’s affair with TV ads bashing him as a hypocrite and unfit for office.

“He has apologized. He knows that he has disappointed his family and friends and supporters,” said Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the state Democratic Party. “But everyone agrees, and that poll further verifies, that the election to the United States Senate and which party has the majority in the United States Senate, rests not on one individual, but where individuals stand on key issues such as health care.”

Ray McKinnon, a former Democratic National Committee member in the state, said of Cunningham: “I think most definitely he’s weathering the storm.”

McKinnon argued that antipathy for President Donald Trump and Tillis is driving the election and Democrats’ willingness to stand by Cunningham, even as they express disappointment or frustration with the affair.

“We’re tired of playing by a different set of rules than other people. And they keep winning playing by that set of rules, and we keep playing by that other standard,” McKinnon said.

Republicans say, however, they are just beginning to litigate the issue. The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a new ad Tuesday calling Cunningham “just another political hypocrite” and featuring local news coverage of his affair. Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC run by allies of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also launched a new ad highlighting coverage of Cunningham facing questions from reporters last week, where he did not answer when pressed on whether he had been involved with other women.

“I don’t think it’s been baked in yet,” said Michael Whatley, the state GOP chairman. He argued the full breadth of the situation, including the confirmed investigation by the Army into Cunningham, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves, would have more impact in the coming weeks. “It’s going to be much more prevalent in voters minds shortly, and I think that will definitely move it,” he said.

The Monmouth poll showed Cunningham with a slightly larger lead, 49 percent to 44 percent, in a high turnout scenario, and only a one-point advantage in a low turnout environment. The Senate results mirror the presidential race in the state: Democrat Joe Biden holds a 1-to-4-point lead, depending on the turnout model.

The Monmouth survey matches the results of two online polls also showing Cunningham still outpacing Tillis. A SurveyUSA poll conducted for WRAL-TV showed him ahead, 49 percent to 39 percent; a poll from Morning Consult showed him leading, 47 percent to 41 percent.

But Republicans are optimistic those polls don’t paint an accurate picture. Glen Bolger, the pollster for Tillis’ campaign, said in a tweet that he planned to release survey data Wednesday that would show the affair has had more of an impact on the race. Bolger and Tillis’ campaign declined to share details on the polling on Tuesday.

“Cal Cunningham’s scandal, coupled with the military investigation, is taking a toll on him” in the race, Bolger said.

But Republicans face a challenge in moving the needle. Voters already have high awareness of the affair: In the Monmouth survey, 80 percent of voters had heard about Cunningham’s texts with a woman who is not his wife. But only 14 percent said it disqualified him from office; 32 percent said it called his character into question but did not disqualify him; and 51 percent said it’s an issue for only him and his family.

The survey questioned only awareness of Cunningham sending “romantic texts” to a woman who was not his wife. The woman, Arlene Guzman Todd, confirmed at least one intimate encounter with Cunningham to the Associated Press. And the Army confirmed an investigation into the affair.

“There are more layers to this scandal that continue to be unpacked, and it’s undoubtedly had a negative effect on Cunningham’s image,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the NRSC. “Closing the campaign with questions about an Army investigation into your behavior and whether or not you have multiple mistresses is not a winning message for him.”

Cunningham did take questions from the media last week following a Zoom event about Covid-19 recovery. He did not address specifics when pressed on if there were other affairs, making it clear he doesn’t intend to discuss the matter beyond his initial apology and arguing voters care more about other issues. “I’ve said what I’m going to say about it,” Cunningham said.

Spokespeople for Cunningham’s campaign did not respond to followup questions after that press conference. A spokesperson on Tuesday referred to a memo the campaign released from campaign manager Devan Barber in which she argued the fundamentals of the race favor the Democrat, highlighting his polling lead and massive fundraising and advertising advantage.

‘We know this race will come down to a handful of votes, and because of the strong position Cal is in today, we will continue to have the tools and resources to keep this race in reach in the final weeks,” Barber wrote in the memo.

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