Handicapping the NC GOP Senate primary

by | May 31, 2013 | Editor's Blog, US Senate | 12 comments

Looks like the National Republican Senatorial Committee got its man in North Carolina. Thom Tillis told reporters yesterday that he plans to file papers with the FEC next week to officially launch his campaign. National Republicans, or at least the McCain-Graham establishment types, believe Tillis matches up with Kay Hagan better than most of the other candidates.

Now, the NRSC’s job is to clear the primary field. We saw Cherie Berry withdraw her name earlier this week and I would imagine we’ll see more get out soon. By the end of summer, I’m betting Tillis only has token primary opposition from one or two of the Tea Party candidates.

I doubt seriously the NRSC is returning Rep. Renee Ellmers calls. Ellmers is an accidental Congresswoman who’s shown no real political savvy or fundraising prowess. While she was a darling of the Tea Party when she ran against Bob Etheridge, they’ve abandoned her and Grover Norquist has put her on his primary target list. She’s got nowhere to turn.

Phil Berger won’t run because, as an astute friend pointed out, he’s the most powerful man in the state, especially with Tillis gone. Gov. Pat McCrory is turning out to be little more than another pretty face who routinely gets his ass handed to him by the legislature. And the next fun will be watching the take-no-prisoners fight to replace Tillis as Speaker. Whoever wins will be a battered rookie who plays second fiddle to the President Pro-tem.

Former Ambassador and Carolina Hurricanes President Jim Cain is the wild card. I imagine that the pressure to keep him out is immense and may be one reason Tillis announced before the end of session. Cain could split the moderate vote and clear the way for a winger to get the nomination. After the likes of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Christine McDonnell, that’s the NRSC’s worst nightmare.

There is already one Tea Partier, Greg Brannon, in the mix and there’s a movement to “draft” Mark Harris, an anti-gay, anti-choice preacher out of Charlotte (I’m pulling for him, by the way). In the past two cycles, we’ve seen Tea Partiers come out of nowhere to take out establishment candidates but without a spoiler like Cain, I don’t think it will happen in North Carolina–though a boy can dream.

The rest of the Congressional delegation is either too inexperienced or not-ready-for primetime (Rep. Foxx and Rep. McHenry). A couple of more nutty folks will probably get in, but unless there’s a big surprise, that’s it for the serious candidates.

I’m hoping Cain gets in and I’m hoping my man Harris gets drafted.



  1. Jim Hurst

    Thomas, how damaged do you think a nominee like Tillis would be by the Trailer Trash Caucus that’s now running the legislature? It seems like coming out of NCGA is some heavy baggage at this point, and I don’t see that changing very quickly. It seems like someone in a leadership position in NCGA would be Hagan’s first pick for an opponent. The ads just write themselves.

    • Thomas Mills

      Hey, Jim. Yeah, I think the legislature hurts him but voters don’t always hold people accountable. Though if he’s the nominee and they shorten the early voting period, Democrats should go to the lines at polling places with signs that say, “If you like waiting in this line, thank Thom Tillis.” If he’s the nominee, the Republicans will try to make the election a referendum on Obama and Hagan will try to wrap the legislature around him. Cain might be a better choice but if both Cain and Tillis are in the race, a winger will probably get the nod.

  2. Junobrooks

    I realize you included the link to Greg Brannon’s website, but you didn’t include his name. That is odd. I guess you did not want to give him the name recognition. Secondly, if Mark Harris is “your guy”, why would you refer to him as “anti-gay and anti-choice”? He is pro-marriage and pro-life. We can be for something, right? Why are we always labeled anti-something? Good grief. No wonder the Tea Party candidate never gets a fair chance. The “media” labels them and leaves out their names!

  3. Charlie Reece (@CharlieReece)

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the most recent polling on this race (from last week), which shows Speaker Tillis with support in the single digits:


    Polling like this at such an early stage in the campaign is typically a proxy for name recognition, and Speaker Tillis will raise a ton of money to try to raise his profile over the next year. But that poll showed that Rep. Virginia Foxx would be the top pick of NC Republicans with support from 15% of those polled. Her potential candidacy probably deserved more than a passing reference at the end of your piece.

    And Rep. McHenry has said he’s not running:


    • Thomas Mills

      Hey, Charlie. I don’t put any stock into polls this far out. Name recognition won’t be an issue by election time. Tillis will have more than enough money to be known. I don’t really think Virginia Foxx is considered serious. I would love to see her in the race, but I can’t see it. I mentioned Ellmers because of press she has gotten.

  4. muckemuck

    I’m not surprised the NRSC leadership supports Toll Road Tillis.

    Excluding Greg Brannon from your article? tsk, tsk. It shows your true colors.

  5. Jay Vics

    ummm, Dr. Greg Brannon?

    • Thomas Mills

      He’s the Tea Partier I mentioned and linked to his web site.

      • John Gjertsen

        But leaving his name out when he’s the only one currently in the race was a strange journalistic decision.

        • Thomas Mills

          I’m not a journalist but I’ll stick his name in there. I just don’t think he will get much traction. He’s my second choice behind Harris.

  6. James Protzman

    Serious candidates is a euphemism for those endorsed and funded by the mainstream political establishment and deep-pocketed special interests. As I’ve said recently, we have auctions, not elections. And we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a whorehouse.

    Same as it ever was. Sickening.

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