Thom Tillis is whining. They guy with all of the resources but none of the base has accused Rev. Mark Harris of “going negative.” Since Harris isn’t even up on television or using paid media, Tillis’ accusation is laughable. However, it underscores the problems Tillis is having.

He’s is running a general election campaign in a primary. He’s decided to skip the meet-and-greets, forums and retail politics that traditionally drives primary campaigns. Instead of building relationships, he’s betting on the power of television.

So when Tillis says Harris is going negative, he’s complaining that the preacher is pointing out his weaknesses to live audiences, a group of people Tillis has chosen to ignore. If he were running a real primary campaign, he could make the argument to the same people Harris is talking to. Instead, he has to ask Harris to stop. Another thin-skinned Republican.

The episode illustrates the flaw in Tillis’ primary strategy. Primary voters are, by definition, more informed, more motivated and more partisan. They identify with a political party and have made a conscientious decision to help pick the party nominee. They will get information from sources beyond the paid advertisements of the campaigns themselves.

General elections, in contrast, draw a large number of voters loyal to neither party but who feel a civic responsibility to vote. They are less informed and more persuadable. A strong media campaign can work on them because it may well be their primary source of information about the candidates and election. That’s the campaign Tillis is running now.

Tillis has a credibility problem with conservative voters. They don’t really trust him and instead of alleviating that mistrust with a personal touch, he’s feeding it by ignoring the rings that he needs to kiss. Television ads aren’t going to fix that problem. Neither is whining to his opponents.


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