Well, Rand Paul jumped into the North Carolina GOP primary for U. S. Senate yesterday. He endorsed Dr. Greg Brannon, a Cary physician and self described Tea Partier. I couldn’t have been happier.

Paul’s endorsement doesn’t automatically make Brannon a contender but it gives him some much needed credibility. So far, his candidacy has been overshadowed by House Speaker Thom Tillis and the homophobic bible thumper Mark Harris, a leader in the 2012 anti-gay marriage campaign. Now, Brannon has an opportunity to run with the big dogs.

First, though, he’s got to figure out how to leverage his new found credibility. Most importantly, he needs to turn it into money. If Paul sends emails on his behalf, Brannon could build a large and powerful low-dollar program supported by Tea Partiers from across the country. But he’ll also need to use the endorsement to build support in-state and reach some big donors.

If Brannon can do that, the GOP primary will be divided between a social conservative, a country club Republican and a Tea Partier. Each faction will clobber the other throughout the spring. Here in North Carolina, we’ll have front row seats to the Republican civil war.

Republican challengers already have a tough road to the U. S. Senate and a three-way primary makes it even harder. If all three candidates are well-funded or at least well-known, the chance of a second primary, or run-off, is high. One candidate would need to garner 40% of the vote to avoid one and that might prove difficult to do.

In North Carolina, the second primary is held at least seven weeks after the May primary to allow for military ballots to be cast and counted. That puts the run-off election sometime in the middle of summer. The winner usually comes out bruised and broke at a time when the donor class is all on vacation. Historically, run-off winners have not done well in general elections.

Paul’s support gives Brannon an opportunity and gives DC favorite Thom Tillis another headache. The May primary is a long way away, and a lot will change but the field’s getting interesting. In this volatile political environment, especially in the Republican Party, anything is possible. Much of what happens depends on who best takes advantage of opportunities. Dr. Brannon has one now.

 

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