Mark Harris received a boost in his U.S. Senate bid with the endorsement of former presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. It’s not surprising that Harris is Huckabee’s choice here. Harris is running as the social conservative, giving more attention to the abortion and gay marriage issues than the other candidates.
Right now, Harris is polling at 8%, according to the latest PPP poll. That’s within striking distance of second place, which is currently a tie between Greg Brannon and Heather Grant. If Harris can raise enough money to boost his name recognition and perhaps get some airtime late in the campaign, he’ll be well-positioned to make it to the runoff with Tillis.
Harris’s main obstacle to a second place victory is Brannon, who is more of a libertarian but also has very socially conservative views. Both Harris and Brannon are vying to be anointed as the “Tea Party” candidate. Whoever gets their support will probably advance to the runoff, if, of course, they request one.
For Tillis to crack 40%, he needs to win the remaining undecided voters by an overwhelming margin. If he dominates the airwaves while the other candidates are confined to the Internet, then that’s possible, but still not particularly likely. The non-Tillis candidates are getting 37% of the vote in the latest poll, and that’s without Ted Alexander. Every new entrant makes a runoff more likely.
For the Tillis campaign, the ideal scenario is winning the nomination outright in May. The second-best scenario, which is almost as good, is if the second-place finisher kindly doesn’t request a runoff, in the interest of the party’s prospects against Hagan in November. The nightmare scenario, however, is a Tea Party challenger coming in second, asking for a runoff, and then forcing Tillis into a long, drawn-out, and expensive contest which could divide the Republican Party and help Hagan substantially. Tillis’s nomination, and potentially Republican control of the U.S. Senate, could be at stake.
In the end, it’s not that important whether or not Tillis cracks 40% on May 6th. The real question is: who finishes second?