Renee Ellmers lost by a large margin last night. She almost came in third place. So why did she lose? Was it the Trump endorsement? What happened?
Ellmers was elected as part of the Tea Party wave of 2010, and she was a candidate of the Tea Party through and through. After she got elected, though, the consensus among conservatives was that she “went Washington” and was more interested in serving the congressional leadership than serving the people. She particularly disappointed conservatives on immigration and earned herself the “pro-amnesty” label.
The discontent became outrage when she derailed a bill banning partial birth abortion in early 2015. Ellmers became the #1 target of conservatives from then on out. After that incident, it was clear that Ellmers could only be renominated with the conservative vote being split. Conservative anger with Ellmers was the biggest reason for her defeat and is why she almost got third last night.
As soon as the new congressional maps were released, it was clear that Ellmers would face an uphill fight. Nearly 60% of the district was territory represented by her opponent, George Holding. Given this, it’s not surprising Ellmers lost as so much of the district was more familiar with Holding, despite him not living in the newly drawn 2nd. Combined with the conservative anger against her, Ellmers’ chances of getting reelected were very low from the outset.
Finally, a few thoughts about the Trump endorsement, which I believe hardly played a role at all in her defeat. First, Ellmers’ decision to back Trump was a curious one from the start, given that the 2nd saw his largest margin of defeat against Ted Cruz in the entire state. Supporting Trump was a hail-Mary strategy that didn’t work out: turn out the hardcore Trump supporters, then hope for a split in the conservative vote between Holding and Brannon.
It was also a clearly political move as Ellmers was perceived as weak on immigration and close to the congressional leadership, pretty much Trump’s polar opposite. In fact, Ellmers supported John Kasich in a Chatham County straw poll just two weeks before she came out for Trump. The well-informed voters who turned out yesterday saw through it. I don’t think Donald Trump had anything to do with the outcome last night (though it certainly didn’t endear her to the “Never Trump” people). The fact that Trump did a robocall for her and she almost came in third is embarrassing for him, but he’s not the reason she lost.
In the end, Ellmers lost because she angered conservatives on pretty much their two biggest issues: abortion and immigration. Those in Congress who want to keep their seats should try not to do that. The district dynamics and the influx of anti-Ellmers spending in the district also played a major role in her loss. Donald Trump was a non-factor. Simply put, Ellmers lost because Republicans thought she was a RINO, which isn’t what they thought they were getting when they first elected her back in 2010.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.