Ok, so Thom Tillis is out with his first ad of the U. S. Senate race. It’s not a bad spot for an introductory ad. It also tells us a little about how he might run this campaign.

It’s quite clear that polling has told him that business experience is a plus, legislative experience is not. He’s the Speaker of the House, theoretically one of the most powerful elected officials in the state, but not a word about his position. Instead, he talks about the free market being superior to Washington and takes a swipe at both parties, hinting at independence. The background looks like he’s in a corporate office and the ad ends with the words “Businessman. Conservative.” No political leadership or experience here.

He’s also playing the front runner. He’s not laying out his conservative credentials or telling us why he’s the best Republican or most qualified to take on the incumbent. No, he’s going after Hagan and trying to wrap her around Obama from the git-go. It may be geared toward a primary audience but it lacks much red meat and he’s also aiming a little for the middle.

Until somebody emerges as the anti-Tillis or has enough money to challenge his assertions, Tillis will ignore his primary rivals and try not to get pushed too far to the right. He hopes that by the time anybody else has the money to get up on the air, he’s dominating the name recognition game and has a solid positive-to-negative favorability ratio. If he can do that, he believes, his opponents will have a hard time catching him.

It’s a good bet, but primaries are not general elections. The voter pool is much smaller and the voters are better informed and more ideological. A small group of dedicated activists can have a much greater impact than in higher turnout general elections. While television is still the most powerful communications tool, its impact can be somewhat muted through organization and alternative forms of communication.

We’ll see if anybody can put together the campaign that tells the other side of the Thom Tillis story.

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