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TV stations pull controversial ads targeting Democratic Senate nominee Cheri Beasley

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

A closely watched U.S. Senate race in North Carolina is getting off to a combative start. TV stations and major media markets are pulling an attack ad aimed at the Democratic candidate. Rusty Jacobs reports from member station WUNC.

RUSTY JACOBS, BYLINE: Cheri Beasley has already made history as the first African American woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 2019 to 2020. But Republicans are using Beasley's judicial record against her, much as they did during confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Our children are society's most vulnerable, and Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has failed them. A man seeking sex with a boy online - she tossed the conviction.

JACOBS: The National Republican Senatorial Committee placed that ad in North Carolina's major media markets, seeking to boost the efforts of the GOP nominee, Congressman Ted Budd. The problem is, Democrats argue, it distorts their candidate's record. The case involved a man caught by an undercover officer in a 2015 sting targeting online predators. The defendant was sentenced to a maximum 21 months, which he served. On appeal, Beasley issued a majority opinion that sent the case back to trial court so the jury could be instructed on the issue of entrapment.

A lawyer with the powerful Democrat-aligned Elias Law Group wrote a letter to TV station managers in Raleigh and Charlotte urging them to pull the ads, saying they're false and misleading. The stations complied. NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline stood by the removed ad and, in a tweet, insisted every word of it was true.

Michael Bitzer is a political science professor at Catawba College, about 40 miles north of Charlotte. He says the negative ad is not that surprising.

MICHAEL BITZER: It's just that it came so early, literally right after the primary election, and is trying to set the tone for what will likely be a very expensive and very negative U.S. Senate race.

JACOBS: Budd is a Donald Trump endorsee seen as key to retaining the GOP's hold on a seat currently occupied by third-term Republican Senator Richard Burr, who's retiring. Bitzer says an open-seat election in a crucial battleground state will make for a very intense partisan battle fueled by outside groups.

BITZER: And the likelihood is the majority of that special interest outside money will be geared towards attacking one candidate over the other.

JACOBS: In other words, this is just the opening salvo in a political battle likely to feature attacks from both sides.

For NPR News, I'm Rusty Jacobs in Durham, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIEVERY CORPORATION'S "A GENTLE DISSOLVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.