Garland Tucker dropped out of the GOP Senate primary in North Carolina yesterday. Thom Tillis must be feeling a bit relieved but it could be short lived. After the courts approved the newly-drawn congressional districts yesterday, two other Republican Congressmen found themselves in districts they can’t win. Rep. Mark Walker’s 6th Congressional District is now a Democratic stronghold. So is Rep. George Holding’s 2nd CD. Both men are probably weighing a primary to Tillis.
Tucker said that he couldn’t raise the money to compete with Tillis and that he’s not willing to spend his own to win the nomination. Tucker probably thought he could exploit Tillis’ low-approval ratings and mushy ideological credentials to build an insurgent campaign. Unfortunately, button-down businessmen don’t usually make very good rebels. Tillis, for his part, maintained the support of the president and Tucker never gained the traction he needed.
Walker was touted as a potential primary opponent to Tillis back before the Junior Senator became chief suck-up to Donald Trump. Walker brings more authentic conservative credentials and has less establishment baggage in the era of Trump. Walker upset Phil Berger, Jr., in a 2014 GOP primary to capture his seat, showing he’s not scared to take on the establishment. Now that his district has deep blue hue, he needs to make a different move.
Walker could primary Ted Budd for the newly drawn 13th District. A lot of his 6th District voters got moved over there. He could sit out 2020 and start running for Richard Burr’s seat in 2022, getting a head start on potential successors to the supposedly-retiring Senior Senator. Or he could primary Tillis. Walker has enough money to launch a campaign. He’s sitting on about $750,000 and would probably get support from outside groups who would prefer him to Tillis. He’ll have to decide fast, though.
Holding, on the other hand, doesn’t really have anywhere to go. He’s a Raleigh guy and now his district is solidly blue. He can either consider a primary with Tillis or wait for an opportunity another day. Holding only has a bit over $400,000 cash on hand as of September 30 and his profile doesn’t really appeal to any segment of the GOP base. He’s an old school country club Republican in a party where that wing is declining. Besides, running a statewide campaign seems like more work than Holding is willing to do. I suspect he will retire.
Tillis is probably vulnerable to a primary. He’s not well respected by the base and he has no discernable core values. Walker would be the strongest opponent. He’s got solid conservative credentials and he’s a better natural politician than Tillis. He’s also been close to Trump and the president would likely stay out of the primary. That said, Walker’s also a better candidate than Ted Budd and a Congressional race is much easier than a statewide one. He’s already known in about half the new district and he’s got the money in the bank to be competitive. We’ll see what happens but I don’t think Walker is ready to step aside.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >