Yesterday PPP released a poll showing Kay Hagan leading all of her Republican challengers but one: Cherie Berry, who was tied with her at 45% each. PPP also noted that Berry has stellar favorability ratings, with even Democrats having a positive opinion of her.
At this point, it looks like Cherie Berry would be Hagan’s strongest competitor. Republicans across the state and nation are holding out hope that Berry will enter the race and send Hagan packing in November.
Not so fast. Berry looks strong now because she has high name recognition and has been elected to statewide office multiple times. She’s had the benefit of having her face appear in every public elevator in the state. But this doesn’t mean she would make a good candidate for U.S. Senate. Running for U.S. Senate is a whole different ball game from running for Council of State. Being Labor Commissioner is also not a traditional launchpad to the Senate. Berry’s support among Democrats is also likely to erode once they learn there’s more to her than just a face in the elevator.
It’s possible Berry might actually be a good candidate, but until then it’s too early for Republicans to start rallying around her. And this is all assuming, of course, that Berry enters the race, which is far from certain.
There’s another reason as to why Republicans should be skeptical of a Berry candidacy. It concerns PPP and their role as a Democratic polling firm. While PPP consistently has very accurate results, they have a partisan agenda. They want Democrats to win and Republicans to lose. This is especially true in their home state. They are pulling for Kay Hagan next year harder than any other Senate Democrat.
This is not to say their results in this race are inaccurate, or that Hagan is actually doing much worse than they are portraying. Both the primary and the general election results seem to conform to reality. What conservatives should be suspicious of is any attempt by PPP to influence the Republican primary by creating buzz for certain candidates. When PPP describes Berry’s favorability numbers in unusually glowing terms, Republicans should be wary. Team Hagan has a list of candidates they fear and another list of candidates they’d be happy to run against. Which list is Cherie Berry on?
Republicans should also be suspicious because in Berry’s case, PPP initiated the buzz surrounding her candidacy. Last year, there were several names bandied about as potential candidates against Kay Hagan: Thom Tillis of course, Phil Berger, George Holding and even Greg Brannon. Berry’s name was not one of them.
There’s another potential Senate candidate that PPP has been attempting to prop up, whose name was not mentioned last year but now appears frequently: Virginia Foxx. PPP has been including Foxx’s name in the polling even though she has not once (publicly) given an indication that she’s interested in a Senate bid. PPP’s poll from yesterday shows her leading the Republican field.
North Carolina Republicans should ask themselves why PPP has been promoting the candidacies of these two women, in particular that of Cherie Berry. If Berry is such a formidable candidate, then why mention her name at all? It doesn’t make sense.
Once again, I am not calling into question their poll results. Nor am I saying Berry and Foxx would be bad candidates once they’re on the campaign trail. But that PPP seems to be playing up their candidacies should send off alarm bells.
North Carolina conservatives should give a good, long look at all the candidates. They should also ask themselves: who does Kay Hagan fear? What candidate would Team Hagan be least enthusiastic about running against? If PPP is coordinating with the Hagan campaign, then they would try to avoid creating buzz for this candidate altogether. And if they had to place this candidate’s name in the poll, they would only do so reluctantly. Are there are any potential candidates in the Republican field who fit this description?
It’s possible Cherie Berry or Virginia Foxx could give Hagan a competitive race. But when a Democratic polling firm touts their candidacies, conservatives should ask themselves why. The process of a campaign “choosing” their competitor has a long and sordid history. The McCaskill campaign wanted to run against Todd Akin, and their efforts to choose their own opponent succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Republicans should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. They should make sure they’re picking the strongest candidate for next November. It’s unlikely that a Democratic polling firm will point them in the right direction.
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.