This week has been an interesting one for Renee Ellmers. On Sunday, the N&O published a story on how conservatives in Moore County were displeased with her performance in Congress. The next day, she was forced to report that an AR-15 had been stolen from her home.
On the political side of things, yesterday Ellmers received two Democratic challengers. One of them is Houston Barnes, an attorney from Durham. Barnes lives outside of the 2nd district but will apparently be moving into the district shortly (there is no constitutional requirement for U.S. Representatives to maintain a home in the district they’re running in). A preliminary website is now up and running.
The second challenger on the horizon is Keith Crisco, who served as NC Secretary of Commerce under Bev Perdue. Crisco is from Asheboro and was probably one of the more popular members of the Perdue administration and has a bipartisan reputation. But at this point, he’s only considering a run.
As far as the general election is concerned, Ellmers should be pretty safe, though her margin of victory will probably be underwhelming. In the 2nd district, the Republican base is just much larger than the Democratic one, and it also has an inelastic electorate to boot. The few swing voters mostly live in the Wake County portion of the district. The Democratic recipe for victory here is to win those swing voters overwhelmingly, while turning out base Democrats at near-presidential levels, combined with a depressed Republican electorate. It’s possible that 2014 will have just the environment to do so, but it’s not at all likely.
If you want to know how big a wave it would take for Democrats to carry the 2nd district, just consider the latest bunch of PPP polls conducted for moveon.org. They’ve released a bunch of polls of vulnerable House Republicans, yielding results that are pretty much the best-case scenario for Democrats. Ellmers isn’t among them.
Ellmers’ biggest threat, however, comes not from the left, but from the right. Thus, she received a big break when Jim Duncan, leader of the Chatham County GOP, decided against a run. This leaves Frank Roche, a television personality from Cary, as the only Republican currently challenging Ellmers. Roche has an outside shot at defeating Ellmers, but he will need a lot of money and support from grassroots conservatives, and right now that doesn’t look likely.
An interesting name I haven’t heard mentioned is that of Tom Murry, who represents HD-41 in Wake County. Murry lives just outside the district, but his district almost entirely overlaps with the Wake County portion of NC-02. He’s also a strong fundraiser. The downside is that Republicans would risk losing HD-41. Murry also doesn’t have a Tea Party profile and might have other ambitions than Congress.
No matter how you slice it, Ellmers is vulnerable in a primary. But if Tea Party Republicans want to toss her out, they need to unite behind a strong challenger who can raise a ton of money. The key words there – ‘unite’ and ‘a ton of money’. Both are necessary.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.