There are few better examples of political double-talk than a candidate attempting to present himself as a foe of the party establishment. In the North Carolina Senate race, both viable candidates have laid claim to the insurgent’s mantle–and both are hypocritical in doing so. At the same time that Pat McCrory and Ted Budd portray themselves as the scourge of Washington, each man has courted establishment donors and sought endorsements from well known party figures. The conventional wisdom may have been that McCrory fit the NRSC’s establishment mold better than his louder competitors, but the failed ex-governor may not even achieve support from the forces he has spent his life attempting to please.
Evidence of Ted Budd’s viability in the race for an institutional Republican imprimatur came last week with a slate of endorsements. Over 30 current and former legislators endorsed Budd, a stinging rebuke to McCrory given that Ted Budd has never served in state government. More eye-opening were the names on that list. In addition to the predictable fringe-dwellers like Representative Larry Pittman, consummate insiders like John Alexander–the most moderate Republican in the General Assembly until his retirement last year–and Jeff Tarte signed onto the Budd effort. Tarte’s support was especially striking; he served from McCrory’s home county of Mecklenburg.
What this reveals is that the Raleigh Republican establishment has little regard for Pat McCrory. As powerful former state Senate rules chair Tom Apodaca once deadpanned, “the governor doesn’t play much of a role in anything.” Apodaca endorsed Ted Budd. In addition to these legislators, Raleigh native and ur-country-clubber George Holding lent his support to Budd. And in the donor space, legendary Raleigh developer John Kane has donated to Ted Budd’s campaign. Outside of Charlotte, McCrory is anything but beloved by North Carolina Republican panjandrums.
Nor are these power brokers necessarily averse to Ted Budd. The best analogy for Budd would be not to a fringe populist like Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, but to former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Like DeMint, Budd is far right–but he’s also a well liked member of the establishment GOP. If he continues building support across the state, Budd could easily become the establishment choice over a failed one-term governor who left Raleigh as a pariah. That’s a little amazing, but not to a superlative degree in the minds of anyone who watched Pat McCrory bumble through his term as governor.
In fairness, McCrory has lined up some establishment support of his own. Senator Richard Burr endorsed McCrory, calling him the only candidate who could win the race. McCrory landed GOP mega-consultant Paul Shumaker and seems to have maintained enduring support in Charlotte GOP circles. But none of that is necessarily a plus in a party that is rural, that is populist, and that hates Richard Burr for having the courage to vote for Trump’s conviction. My view has long been that if you run a well funded campaign against McCrory, you’ll beat him. Ted Budd has the tools to do that.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.