It’s hard to overstate just how bad the last week has been for Cal Cunningham. Read below for a comprehensive timeline of events, and for the latest updates on this developing story.
On Thursday, the story broke of the married-with-children Army veteran’s “sexting” relationship with California consultant Arlene Guzman Todd — whose husband is also an Army veteran.
On Friday, his campaign confirmed the “sexts” were authentic. Afterward, the Democratic Senate nominee issued a statement apologizing for his behavior, saying he’d stay in the race. At that point, the prevailing belief was that the sexting was just sexting and nothing beyond that.
On Saturday and Sunday, Cunningham’s campaign and social media feeds went dark. His Facebook ads were scaled back to bare bones.
On Monday: Cunningham bailed at the last minute on a scheduled town hall with voters. On the same day of the town hall, he was hit with another affair allegation, from a former member of his state Senate steering committee who claimed in a Facebook comment that a friend of hers had been having an affair with him for 8 years.
That allegation has yet to be confirmed or denied.
On Tuesday, the AP spoke to his sexting partner Guzman Todd and she confirmed she and Cunningham took their relationship beyond sexting by conducting an intimate affair out of his home as late as July of this year.
On Wednesday, local media outlets reported the Army Reserve had started an investigation into Cunningham’s conduct. Reports also noted that “Adultery is listed as ‘unacceptable conduct’ by the military and maybe ‘service discrediting.’”
That same day, Cunningham — who had been avoiding the media since the scandal broke — was seen at a Starbucks by a local reporter, who interviewed him on the spot and asked questions about the scandal. Cunningham repeatedly avoided answering the questions, claiming the campaign was “not about my personal life.” This is an absurd claim, and I explain why in detail here.
Later that day, more damaging text messages were revealed.
Wednesday night, Cunningham made his first official appearance since the scandal broke. Speaking at a virtual event for a local environmental group, the former state senator actually seemed to blame his opponent, Sen. Thom Tillis (R), for the affair scandal:
NEW: Cal Cunningham is blaming SENATOR TILLIS for his sexting scandal pic.twitter.com/pZah66zOsm
— Chris Martin (@chrisjdmartin) October 8, 2020
In an ironic twist, the theme of the night at the event was “accountability”, which was defined as an “obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions”:
— Madelaine Pisani (@MadelainePisani) October 9, 2020
The Tillis campaign, in turn, released this ad hitting Cunningham hard on the affair allegations, pointing to how he made his campaign about how “the truth still matters” and referencing the military aspect of the affair story:
The only time Cal Cunningham even came close to answering tough questions about his scandal was when a reporter ran into him hiding out at a Starbucks.
His campaign has been one big lie to the voters. He needs to come clean. pic.twitter.com/u37PFBFtz6
— Thom Tillis (@ThomTillis) October 8, 2020
Local news outlets filed reports Thursday noting, in so many words, that the Cunningham campaign had been repeatedly dodging their requests for interviews, with one pointing out that the campaign was clearly in crisis mode:
My favorite damning local TV clip on Cal from last night (of which there are many) is this one where @JoeBrunoWSOC9 notes that he is still hiding from the media and refusing to be transparent and the anchor basically tells Cal, "You can run but you can't hide." #ncsen #ncpol pic.twitter.com/mJg7WiejAX
— Andrew Romeo (@andrewromeo33) October 9, 2020
— Andrew Romeo (@andrewromeo33) October 8, 2020
Another day, another brutal round of front pages for Cal Cunningham.
“Is Cunningham apology enough?” on the Fayetteville Observer (which covers Ft. Bragg) and Wilmington Star News.
— Joanna Rodriguez (@joannamrod) October 9, 2020
Cal Cunningham is still in hiding and his campaign is still refusing to respond to reporters about his scandal and Army investigation. Cunningham is afraid to answer basic questions about his misconduct, raising even more questions about his hypocrisy and lies. #ncpol #ncsen
— Dan Keylin (@dankeylin) October 9, 2020
What reporters here are trying to get Cunningham to answer are a few things:
1) If he will, like Guzman Todd, confirm the affair. So far, he has not said anything about it beyond acknowledging the sexting.
2) Will he confirm or deny the second affair allegation, the one where he allegedly has been seeing another woman since 2012?
3) At any point was his affair conducted on military premises and/or on military time?
Since it has been days since Guzman Todd confirmed the intimate affair and also days since the second intimate affair allegation was made, I think it’s safe to say that Cunningham’s refusal to confirm or deny either at this point speaks volumes — none of it good.
Despite all this, the DSCC is sticking by Cunningham and just shelled out another $3 million for his campaign.
At this point, only two post-scandal news polls have been done on this race, with one showing no change and the other showing Tillis with a slight lead.
But regardless of whether or not his poll numbers start to drop, it’s going to negatively impact him at a certain point, considering all this has been going on while he’s been running a campaign based on the family/military man persona — all in a state that is not only home to Fort Bragg and other military installations but which also is still deeply religious.
Just how much it negatively impacts him, though, is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned.