Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham apologized for his personal scandal during his first public appearance since a California woman said she had an affair with him and sexual text messages between the two were published.
“I am deeply sorry for the hurt that I have caused in my personal life and I also apologize to all of you,” Cunningham said Wednesday night. “I hope all of you watching at home will accept this sincere apology and that we will continue to work together to change the direction of our country and strengthen our state.”
He delivered the comments during a live-streamed event held by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters — the 2020 Green Tie Awards.
His comments were streamed on Facebook. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper were also among the speakers at the award ceremony.
“There’s a lot we have to talk about tonight, because there’s a lot at stake in this election,” Cunningham said before offering his apology. “We can all agree that this is, by far, the most important election of our lifetime. But before we get into those issues that most affect the campaign, I want you to hear something directly from me.
He did not mention any specifics about the text messages, the affair, his wife or his family. His speech then pivoted to talking about a series of issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, and attacking incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, his Republican opponent.
“Because Thom Tillis knows that he is losing and knows that we are winning, he has now resorted to trying to make this campaign about something other than the issues. But we know, I know, this campaign is about your hopes and your dreams,” he said.
Cunningham spoke for less than seven minutes, touching on the pandemic response, health care and climate change. He said those are the issues he will continue to fight for.
“I will not get sidetracked, and I hope you won’t either,” he said.
A pivotal race
Tillis, who announced Friday that he tested positive for the coronavirus, said Cunningham “owes the people of North Carolina full explanation,” in a Tuesday appearance on FOX News’ “Fox & Friends.”
“On the debate stage last week, Cal said it’s about integrity — and I agree,” Tillis said.
Tillis’ campaign manager said Wednesday night that Cunningham’s “comments tonight only make his scandal — and the hypocrisy of his campaign worse.”
“Cunningham is afraid to directly address why and how he betrayed the trust of North Carolinians,” campaign manager Luke Blanchat said in a statement. “... North Carolinians deserve a full explanation; the truth still matters.”
The race is considered key to determining which party controls the U.S. Senate in January. Cunningham has led in polling throughout the summer and into the fall.
But the race faced increased attention and scrutiny after Friday night, when Cunningham’s campaign confirmed the authenticity of sexually suggestive text messages with Arlene Guzman Todd, of California.
Monday, Todd, confirmed an intimate encounter with Cunningham in July.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the U.S. Army Reserves said it is investigating the Cunningham “matters.” Cunningham, 47, is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, and Arlene Guzman Todd is married to Jeremy Todd, a veteran.
Jeremy Todd called for Cunningham to “drop out of the Senate race” in a statement to The News & Observer on Wednesday.
But under North Carolina law, it’s too late for candidates to drop out of the 2020 election, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Cunningham and his wife, Elizabeth, met in 1997 and were married in May 2000. They have two teen-aged children.
Nearly 400,000 North Carolinians have already cast their absentee by-mail ballot, according to the state board of elections.
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