Well, it looks like the Republican primary for U. S. Senate is heating up with the march of national players coming into the state. It also looks like the real contenders are shaping up.

Karl Rove and is band of pranksters is coming to the state to aid Thom Tillis. Janet Huckabee, wife of former Arkansas Governor, former presidential candidate, Fox News show host and self-righteous blowhard, Mike Huckabee, is coming to raise money for the Reverend Mark Harris. And Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon is following Rand Paul’s example by plagiarizing–from Rand Paul.

It looks like the race is going to be a contest between Tillis and Harris. Both are going after the money. Tillis is looking to the business community. Harris is tapping the social conservatives. Brannon, on the other hand, is increasingly looking like a candidate who is not ready for prime time.

Brannon could recover but he will need to put together a more professional operation and start organizing the grassroots Tea Party wing of the party. That said, the Tea Party influence is waning and they have never been that powerful in North Carolina. More likely, Brannon becomes a spoiler, sucking enough votes away from one of the other two candidates to send the primary into a run-off.

If I had to guess, I would still say Tillis wins the primary. Republicans nationally realize that nominating candidates out of the mainstream has hurt their party, most recently this week in Virginia. However, the presence of Harris and, to a lesser degree Brannon, could well push Tillis too far to the right to be electable in North Carolina.

As I’ve pointed out before, this scenario has played out several times over the last few decades. Most notably, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot was defeated in a primary for governor by Robin Hayes, in part, because he performed a ribbon-cutting at a Planned Parenthood grand opening. When he ran four years later, Vinroot made sure nobody got to his right and then lost the gubernatorial contest to Democrat Mike Easley who painted him as too conservative for the state. Tillis could suffer the same fate.

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