In his column this weekend, Rob Christensen wrote that Kay Hagan’s re-election bid is more tied to the political environment than anything she has done in the U. S. Senate. The week before, another article explored the damage that Obamacare might cause her campaign. And at National Journal, a columnist raised the prospect of a wave election that would sink Hagan and give the GOP control of the Senate.
What nobody mentioned was the Republican primary. Remember when Harry Reid was in danger of losing re-election? And how about when Joe Biden’s seat was going to Republican Congressman and former Governor Mike Castle? Or how about two years later when Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s seat was all but gone to the GOP? Or when Senator Richard Luger was certainly going to win a seventh term?
All of those seats were handed to Democrats by Tea Party candidates who won primaries but were so far outside the mainstream that they were unelectable. In North Carolina, a similar dynamic is shaping up. Cary physician Greg Brannon has the endorsement of Rand Paul and Ann Coulter. Charlotte preacher Mark Harris is rallying the social conservatives. And two lesser known candidates, Heather Grant and Bill Flynn, are staking out ground on the far right.
A couple of weeks ago, all four were at a Tea Party forum in Gastonia getting their crazy on. And their main target wasn’t Kay Hagan, it was the establishment candidate and state House Speaker Thom Tillis. In particular, they slammed him for supporting toll roads on I-77, one of those little noticed but very emotional local issues that can kill a candidate in a low turn out, heavily contested primary.
Tillis still probably has the advantage but with five candidates in the race, it’s looking less likely that he can escape without a run-off. If that happens, all bets are off. A couple hundred thousand people or less will determine the GOP nominee. In that scenario, I’ll put my money on the people foaming at the mouth instead of the ones wearing suits.
Even if Tillis comes out of the primary, there’s a question of whether or not the base will support him. They didn’t come out for John McCain. And while they showed up for Mitt Romney, they were voting against Obama, not for the former Massachusetts governor.
Christensen is right that the political environment likely has more to do with Hagan’s race than her accomplishments. But even in a really lousy political environment, the Republican primary could give her the edge.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >