Omigod. This GOP Senate primary is going to be a blast! We’re still eight months out and the sparks are starting to fly.

Today, rumor has it that state Senator Pete Brunstetter will get into the race if Phil Berger stays out. Brunstetter says Berger encouraged him to consider it. Another vote of confidence for Thom Tillis.

And yesterday, the N&O reported that Sen. Richard Burr is helping House Speaker Thom Tillis with a fundraiser in Washington. With several other announced candidates and more looking at the race, Burr’s people quickly emphasized that this is not an official endorsement. In fact, Burr sent out a press release saying he would help any Republicans who wanted to raise money in Washington.

What a mistake. Now, there’s a push from the Tea Party wing for candidates like Greg Brannon and Mark Harris to call Burr and ask for the same treatment. After his statement, it will interesting to see how Burr reacts.

And while the establishment Republicans are rallying around Tillis, the conservatives are not. In fact, they are predicting that a Tillis nomination guarantees Hagan’s re-election. But so does nominating somebody from the wing-nut faction.

And this is Kay Hagan’s gift and the North Carolina Republicans’ recurring nightmare. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Republican primaries eliminated electable candidates in favor of those with ideological purity.

Richard Vinroot is the best example. Vinroot was Pat McCrory’s role model in Charlotte. Vinroot served as mayor of Charlotte in the early 1990s and governed as moderate, modern New South mayor.

When he ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 1996, he was defeated in the primary by Robin Hayes (now chairing Mark Harris’s campaign), who pounded Vinroot for his alleged support of Planned Parenthood. Hayes went on to lose handily to incumbent Jim Hunt.

When Vinroot ran again four years later, he showed he had learned his lessons. He made sure nobody got to his right in the primary and portrayed himself as a fire-breathing conservative. Unfortunately for Vinroot, Mike Easley used his right-wing rhetoric to cast him as out of touch with the North Carolina’s more moderate voters and Vinroot lost by six points.

Personally, I’m pulling for Mark Harris. I think an anti-gay and anti-abortion platform is just what the Republicans need in North Carolina. And I bet Harris, a fundamentalist preacher, supports those efforts to enact a state religion.

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