CORRECTION: This piece originally said that Tillis was not recognized as a Defender of Liberty by the American Conservative Union. In fact, he was.
Conservative Republicans and their allies are continuing to punish North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis. Tillis has had a spate of headlines indicating he has alienated conservatives in the state.
Over the past month or two, the speaker skipped a series of forums and forum organizers have been leaving an empty chair to symbolize his absence. Several party leaders have condemned him for avoiding the public. Also, FreedomWorks, the conservative grassroots organization, endorsed his Tea Party opponent, Greg Brannon.
Tillis and his campaign are banking that they can overcome some negative publicity early in the race with large TV buys later. It might work. He already has a small but growing lead over his opponents and better name recognition. However, in a low-turnout election, he can only afford to alienate people for so long before a narrative starts to stick, at least among the activists.
Tillis would be wise to look back at similar strategies in the state. In 2002, Billy Richardson was the favorite in the Democratic primary for Congress in the 8th Congressional District. Richardson angered party activists by ignoring events and failing to kiss enough rings. Instead, supported by the Washington and Raleigh establishments, he spent heavily on TV and mail.
When the votes were counted, Richardson lost by 15 points in a low turnout race to a guy named Chris Kouri who traveled the district and spent his money on a smattering of direct mail. And that was before the internet made targeting and communicating with narrow audiences that much easier.