Regardless of which story, poll, media buy or opinion you run across, one thing is certain, the GOP primary for US Senate is anything but settled.
By all accounts it should be NC House Speaker Thom Tillis’ to lose. His leadership of the NC House has ushered in historic tax cuts, tort reform, VoterID, and a myriad of regulatory cuts that have helped propel businesses in the state to start hiring at epic levels. The unemployment rate in the state (6.4%) has dropped below the national average (6.7%). The rate was at 8.3% in February of last year. That’s impressive! In an economy being held back by massive new encumbrances on businesses like Obamacare, it’s worth crowing about.
But the race to take on incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is far deeper and broader. The entirety of the US Senate power balance is at play and North Carolina is a key component on the national political stage. Whoever wins NC could tilt the balance of senatorial leadership for the final two years of President Obama’s administration.
Cary physician, constitutionalist, and grass roots firebrand Greg Brannon’s presumptuous political obituary was written back in February when a civil trial found him liable for misleading investors, resulting in a judgement that exceeds $450k (which he is appealing). In spite of this, conservative bloggers and activists statewide have continued their unrelenting support of him. Even national talk show host Glenn Beck heaped accolades on Brannon saying, “You are perhaps the best candidate I have ever talked to the first time out of the chute. You are amazing. You are amazing.”
Rev. Mark Harris, underfunded from the beginning, has continued to hang around. He did a stellar job at the recent Civitas Conservative Leadership Conference and has pockets of support statewide. His support, however, hasn’t made him a front runner in any statewide polls of note.
The problem for Tillis grows daily. He is not seen much in public, has largely avoided debating his lesser known opponents, but has been prolific in fund-raising, closing the recent reporting period with $1.3m being raised, compared to Brannon’s $500k.
In addition, Sen. Hagan’s allies have started running over $1m in ads attacking Tillis intending to hurt him with both social and fiscal conservatives. And that’s not likely to stop.
Tillis has the support of the US Chamber of Commerce, the NRA and even Karl Rove’s Crossroads PAC, but the support (meaning millions of friendly dollars) doesn’t seem to be helping him pull away from his lesser known and underfunded opponents.
Conventional wisdom now indicates that Tillis will not cross the 40% threshold in the May primary to avoid a runoff. That situation would likely place Tillis in a head to head with Brannon with the runoff to take place on July 15th.
Such a scenario makes the political landscape far more problematic for Tillis. As Speaker of the House, he will find a very conservative NC Senate pulling him to the right legislatively in the short session. It also diminishes the period of time for him to face Kay Hagan in the Fall.
Brannon should feel buoyed by the situation, but likely overstepped by guaranteeing the N&O that he would win the primary outright.
Insiders are paying attention nationwide. This race clearly demonstrates the deep schisms within the GOP along social, fiscal and establishment lines. Issues be damned, this is more akin to figuring out how Jack Bauer will make it out of the next tight spot in this season’s “24″ than a conventional NC political race if there is such a thing.