Looks like I’m wrong again. For months, I’ve been saying that Phil Berger wasn’t going to run for U. S. Senate. Well, he’s either running or he’s spending a lot of money and energy giving Thom Tillis heartburn. Or maybe he’s just trying to show Tillis how it’s done.
Berger came out with an ad on Monday defending the voter suppression package and taking a shot at Hagan and Obama in the process. Then, on Tuesday, he issued a press release blasting Hagan for standing with Obama on Syria. It looks to me like he’s coming out of the box swinging and sending the message, “I’m the clear frontrunner here and I’m running against Kay Hagan, not those also-rans.”
If he’s in, he’ll cool his jets a bit because Tillis isn’t going away that easily. Besides, there’s a Tea Party candidate who has no name recognition but a bit of a following, at least on social media. Regardless, there will be a real primary and either Tillis or Berger may regret not doing away with the run-off system.
But I’m more interested in what a Berger candidacy means–besides a whole lot of fun for people like me. First, it means the prospect of a nasty and divisive primary that could expose the rifts within the North Carolina Republican Party. There is apparently no love lost between Tillis and Berger. We’ll get our first look at what the rural vs. urban divide looks like in the Republican Party and we’ll see if the Tea Partiers stick to their candidate or move to the more electable Berger.
Second, the short session of the legislature next spring and summer will have lame duck leaders in both houses since Tillis and Berger can’t run for re-election if they run for Senate. Can you imagine how fun that will be with everybody in both chambers jockeying for position instead of doing the work of governing?
Third, it means neither caucus will have their big fundraisers on hand to help with the 2014 cycle. Not that the Republicans will hurt for cash, but it will be interesting to see who emerges as the big raisers. The ones who do will be the new leaders.
And finally, it offers Pat McCrory a second chance. Berger treated McCrory like an annoying little brother and while Tillis was more genteel, he didn’t really show the governor much respect, either. With both of them gone, McCrory gets to start over with the new leadership teams. He can try to reinvent himself to look like more of a leader going into the second half of his term. If Berger stays as President Pro-tem, he remains the dominant player in North Carolina politics, overshadowing the less politically astute McCrory.