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North Carolina voters face upended Senate race

Thom Tillis faces tough reelection in North Carolina
Thom Tillis faces tough reelection in North C... 10:05

For Isaiah Iventosch, 23, a North Carolina voter who lives in Green Mountain, the revelation of Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham's extramarital affair is a "pretty big blow." 

But he still plans to "swallow the pill" and vote for Cunningham, whose sexts with a veteran's wife were revealed days ago.

"Your personal life is your personal life. I think it's scummy, and it's the slumdog thing to do, especially like to his wife, but I also...don't think it's abnormal for politicians to cheat on their wives, unfortunately," said Iventosch. 

The North Carolina Senate race, already one of the most closely watched battleground contests in the 2020 cycle, has been upended this week with shocking twists for both candidates less than a month before Election Day. 

Cunningham admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive texts with political strategist Arlene Guzman, while incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the White House Supreme Court nomination ceremony of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Some attendees were tested beforehand, but it was a crowded indoor and outdoor event where many were not wearing masks. Tillis' infection was one of several cases announced after President Trump tested positive for the virus. 

Election 2020 Senate North Carolina
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham participates in a televised debate with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, not shown, at WNCN-TV in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. Gerry Broome / AP

After a weekend without appearances by either candidate, Tillis said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday that he "feels great" and looks forward to getting back to Washington for the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings next week for Barrett, who was nominated to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September.

Tillis' campaign headquarters in Charlotte has been closed all week and is set to reopen Monday, though his campaign says no staff members have tested positive.

Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, left, speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing to examine the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation in Washington, DC, on September 30, 2020.  Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

While the senator is recovering, opponent Cunningham is contending with the new unsettling revelations. In a statement issued Friday, Cunningham apologized for hurting his family, including his wife of almost 20 years, and disappointing his friends. 

"The first step in repairing those relationships is taking complete responsibility, which I do," said Cunningham in the statement. "I remain grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state."

On Tuesday, the Associated Press uncovered more text messages between Cunningham and Arlene Guzman Todd that show there was an intimate encounter as recently as July in Cunningham's home. 

The Army Reserve said it is now investigating the sexting scandal involving Cunningham, who is a lieutenant colonel. His actions could violate rules concerning adultery under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

It's no sure bet that Cunningham's impropriety will cost him the election. In 2016, North Carolina voters chose President Trump over Hillary Clinton, despite the release of the "Access Hollywood" video, in which he spoke of grabbing women by their genitals.

In the days after Tillis' positive coronavirus diagnosis and Cunningham's admission of involvement with the strategist, CBS News spoke with North Carolina voters who said while these new developments are "shocking," they're sticking with their preferred candidate, whether it's Tillis or Cunningham. 

Coprecia Robinson, 50, is an early childhood educator in Raleigh who has spoken with Cunningham in the past and was planning to vote for him because of his stances on healthcare and equity. Robinson said though the news of Cunningham's extramarital affair shocked her, she still plans to vote for him.

"You're gonna have people that may change their mind about voting for him because they're going to look at him in a different way but again, I always say, what he did, how is that going to affect the office, the position that he will hold if he is elected?" Robinson said. "Did he go out here and commit a crime that affected the health care or that affected the people that he's going to be representing?"

Iventosch said he's disappointed that Tillis hasn't used this experience with COVID as an opportunity to inform his supporters of the serious nature of the virus.

"He's had most of his entire election downplaying the virus, and now he's gotten it," said Iventosch. "I don't wish coronavirus on anyone, like no matter how much I disagree with them, but I think that at a certain point, if you're basically taunting the disease,...that [doesn't] work out well."

When asked if Tillis is doing a good job with the coronavirus, despite the fact that he has contracted COVID-19, Susan Mills, of Fayetteville, said she's proud of him and has seen him wearing masks at campaign events. 

"He's been very, I think, very good at wearing his mask," Mills said, "I hate that anyone gets sick from COVID but also because I'm looking at it too, as a teacher, when I think about all the things that we're exposed to on a daily basis, we're very lucky that others have not come down with it and maybe even sooner than, you know, right now."

Tillis supporters like Mills do not think a COVID positive test is on the same playing field as an extramarital affair and remain staunchly supportive of their candidate, even more so now in the wake of the revelations of the affair. Mills told CBS News that if Cunningham can lie to his own family, it makes her question whether he'd lie to North Carolinians. 

Cunningham looked into the camera to deliver an apology during his remarks on a North Carolina League of Conservation Voters fundraising livestream Wednesday night. 

"I am deeply sorry for the hurt I have caused in my personal life and I also apologize to all of you," Cunningham said, "And I hope each of you watching at home accept this sincere apology, and that we will continue to work together to change the direction of our country and strengthen our state." 

On Thursday night, the Tillis campaign aired a TV spot attacking Cunningham for the scandal calling his entire campaign "a lie," and the attacks will likely escalate between the two campaigns through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings next week and in the three weeks until Election Day. 

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