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North Carolina Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham is staying in the race for one of the state's U.S. Senate seats even as his campaign was rocked by allegations he engaged in an extramarital affair as recently as this summer.
A Cunningham campaign spokeswoman declined on Tuesday to comment on newly emerged text messages between Cunningham and a married woman and said his Republican opponent is trying to "exploit a personal matter."
"Senator [Thom] Tillis and his allies are trying to exploit a personal matter and ignoring a family’s request for privacy to make desperate attacks in hopes they can distract from Senator Tillis’ record of blocking Medicaid expansion, voting to take protections away from North Carolinians with pre-existing conditions, and failing to pass needed COVID-19 relief for our communities," the campaign spokeswoman said in a statement to Fox News.
A week ago, conservative website National File.com published text messages between Cunningham and Arlene Guzman Todd, a public relations strategist from California, that suggested a personal relationship.
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The newly obtained texts provide both a more specific timeline about their relationship, which shows it was recent, as well as details that describe intimate encounters — not simply a digital exchange.
The text messages were not obtained from Guzman Todd, but The Associated Press contacted her to confirm their authenticity.
In a series of interviews late Monday as well as in the text messages, Guzman Todd described two in-person encounters with Cunningham, one in March in Los Angeles that she said did not include intimate contact and a second in July in North Carolina, where she said they were intimate.
Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, left, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. talk during a televised debate Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool)
Cunningham's opponent Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was quick to pounce after both the AP and local outlet WRAL published stories.
"Cal Cunningham has said, 'In North Carolina, the truth still matters.' I agree. He owes North Carolinians a full explanation," Tillis wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night.
Tuesday's revelations could hurt Cunningham's slight lead on Tillis, Civitas Institute elections policy analyst Andy Jackson told Fox News.
"I think the timing of the affair is more damaging to Cunningham than the physicality of it," he said. "To do something like this in July, after he secured his party’s nomination last March, suggests an arrogance and a lack of sound judgment that is more likely to give potential supporters pause than if this is something that had happened a couple of years ago."
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In the text messages to her friend, Guzman Todd told her she was intimate with Cunningham in his home, which she later characterized as “weird.”
In another exchange, Guzman Todd indicated that she was frustrated by the limited attention that he showed her.
“I’m just going to send to his opponent his naked photos,” Guzman Todd wrote. “That will teach him.”
“You don’t deserve me Cal,” she said in a separate text message. She added in another, “He knows (that I) can tank his campaign.”
In a statement, Guzman Todd apologized for the “pain and embarrassment, and disrespect I’ve caused to my immediate family, loved ones, and everyone affected by this situation.”
“A few months back, I displayed a lapse in judgment by engaging in a relationship with Cal Cunningham during a period of marital separation,” Guzman Todd said. “The relationship spanned several months and consisted primarily of a series of text exchanges and an in-person encounter." She did not elaborate, but her text messages described the intimacy.
Cunningham, 47, was a star recruit for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He's been a fundraising powerhouse. He also checks important boxes: He’s a veteran, a father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, a lawyer and a former state senator.
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Republicans capitalized on the scandal. The Senate Leadership Fund started running ads spotlighting the affair on Tuesday as well as redirecting the web address www.historicallysexy.com to articles about the Cunningham campaign's troubles after the politician called Guzman Todd "historically sexy" in a text.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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