To the surprise of no one, Representative Renee Ellmers is staying in the House, foregoing a bid for U.S. Senate. It seemed abundantly clear a while ago that Ellmers was not planning a move to higher office, commenting that her heart was in the House and saying kind words about another potential Senate candidate, Jim Cain. This, along with her lackluster fundraising, seemed to point away from a Senate run. Well today it is confirmed – Ellmers is out, and another piece of the North Carolina Senate race puzzle has been put in place.
This weekend also saw the entrance of Heather Grant of Wilkesboro into the Senate race. She joins Thom Tillis and Greg Brannon as the only announced Senate candidates.
Virginia Foxx is unlikely to run. Rev. Mark Harris seems like a contender. Phil Berger’s plans are unknown. There are some who say that he is leaning against a race, and others who say that Berger will run just to make things messy for Tillis. Jim Cain is another unknown. It could be that he is waiting to see how the race shapes up, and will only throw his hat into the ring if he sees an opening. Right now he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Greg Brannon has tapped into the Ron Paulite, Tea Party faction and has garnered substantial support. He has not raised gobs of money. But as mentioned before, he is not to be underestimated or pigeonholed as a fringe candidate with no chance. His campaign bears watching. In the past two cycles, Tea Party candidates seemingly from nowhere have foiled the Senate ambitions of more establishment politicians. Does Brannon fit this mold? And most importantly, can he win next November?
Ellmers would have been the highest-profile female Senate candidate, and indeed the gender gap is something that Republicans must work on if they plan to defeat Hagan next November. Other women considering running are the aforementioned Virginia Foxx and Lynn Wheeler, former Mayor pro tem of Charlotte.
It seems to be a consensus that the Senate race currently leans Democratic. Nate Silver ranks the Senate race a toss-up, but most observers believe that North Carolina is behind other states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alaska when it comes to competitiveness. To Hagan’s benefit is North Carolina’s status as a purple state. But among the Senate incumbents, she is the least established, and a campaign to raise her negatives could prove to be her undoing. That said, while not as competitive as some other races, the road to a Senate majority goes through North Carolina. Thom Tillis said as much over the weekend. So there is a lot hanging on this race. That means, once again, that the state will be showered with money and negative ads around this time next year. Count on it.
Phil Berger has said that he will make a decision by the end of the month. Now it’s July 30th and the legislative session is at an end. Does that mean an announcement is forthcoming? And what will his decision be? Stay tuned.