- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The upstart Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Richard Burr has continued to outraise and outspend the Republican incumbent in a tight North Carolina race that could help determine whether the GOP-controlled Senate shifts to Democratic hands.

Deborah Ross, a former state legislator once considered a second-tier candidate for Democrats, has now collected more contributions than Burr for the third quarter in a row, according to campaign disclosure documents. Her campaign also spent more than double what Burr did for the three months ending Sept. 30.

Burr’s campaign, however, remained in the position of strength, entering October with nearly $7.2 million in cash on hand compared to a little over $1.1 million for Ross, according to federal reports due last weekend. This advantage gives Burr more campaign options through Election Day. But Ross‘ campaign said they had a strong first three weeks of October, raising another $2.3 million to replenish her coffers.

Most polls have shown Ross and Burr statistically even. Democrats need to flip five seats to secure a Senate majority. Burr is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, seeking his third term in what he calls his final Senate election.

As Democratic Senate fortunes have diminished in some states, Ross has benefited from outside groups shifting to North Carolina and spending several million dollars on television ads largely blasting Burr for his environmental record and energy-related campaign contributors. Big labor also has made its presence attacking Burr.

Burr and pro-Burr super PACs have been targeting Ross for her work history as a lobbyist for the state chapter at the American Civil Liberties Union at the General Assembly, arguing that her viewpoints are too radical for the state’s electorate. The National Rifle Association’s political arm also has criticized her on the air for her legislative voting record on gun rights while in the state House.

Burr, Ross and outside groups spent an estimated $10 million airing ads more than 20,000 times for the four weeks ending Oct. 13, according to an ad data analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Ross and her allies ran more commercials during that period than Burr and his counterparts.

The Ross campaign unveiled a new television ad Friday that reminds voters about Burr’s continuing political support for Donald Trump, despite the Republican presidential nominee’s crude comments about women and allegations that Trump touched them inappropriately.

Burr said last week that he accepts Trump’s statements that he didn’t commit sexual assault. While having concerns about both candidates, the senator said he had more concerns about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becoming president.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC seeking to preserve the Republican majority, also began running a new ad. The fund, led by a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has said it will spend $9 million on television ads in North Carolina this fall.

The fund’s latest ad criticizes Ross for the ACLU’s position of defending the constitutional right to burn a flag and a 2001 case when a North Carolina man who wanted to have a flag pole on his property asked the ACLU for help. Ross has said she didn’t recall that specific request, and the ACLU wouldn’t become involved in a residential land use dispute in any case.

More than $4.2 million in contributions were raised for Ross‘ campaign for the three months ending Sept. 30, compared to close to $2.5 million for Burr’s campaign. Ross‘ campaign also spent $5.2 million versus $2.4 million for Burr. Burr’s campaign had $5 million more in cash in his campaign account than Ross entering last summer.

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