In his bid to become the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, Thom Tillis needs to get to 40% of the vote in May to avoid a precarious runoff. Yesterday, the math got harder when a seventh candidate jumped into the fray. If all seven file, a big “if,” getting to 40% is tough. Here’s a look at some math.

Just by filing, a candidate gets close to 5% of the vote and three of the four lesser funded candidates brings a constituency that could get them to double digits. And, who knows? A savvy, renegade campaign might launch one of them into runoff contention. This is politics.

Heather Grant is the only woman on the ballot. A registered nurse, she can likely get to double digits on gender alone. Bill Flynn has a popular radio show in the Winston-Salem market and his listenership alone gets him close to 10%. And former Shelby mayor Ted Alexander is well-respected, having served on numerous boards and commissions across western North Carolina. His regional appeal should get him near double digits. The new candidate is a retired doctor with no political experience so he will likely get stuck at 5% or so.

If these four lesser-funded candidates get a combined total of 30% of the vote, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris will need to get a combined 30% to keep Tillis below the 40% threshold. Brannon could do well, but so far is squandering his title of Tea Party leader. If he just runs a grassroots effort with no real communications, he’ll probably top out at about 15% and he only gets that because of the Paul endorsement. That means Harris needs at least 15%. His connection to the old Christian coalition and the anti-gay marriage amendment crowd should get him at least to 20% and it could easily get him to 25%. That put’s it into a runoff and Harris would emerge as the anti-Tillis.

Tillis’ best chance to avoid a runoff is to talk somebody out of running. I have to believe that Ted Alexander is getting serious pressure right now. Alexander and Tillis have the same constituency but Alexander is not tainted by time in the legislature. Heather Grant’s probably also getting some warm and fuzzy calls from the speaker. Flynn has little reason to get out. Even if he tanks across the state, he builds his listenership. I don’t know about the new guy, but he’s the least of Tillis’ worries.

If the field stays the same or grows, the odds are on a runoff. And in runoff, all bets are off.

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