To the surprise of no one, Phil Berger has decided to forego a run for U.S. Senate. Though he would have been a serious threat for the nomination, Berger lacked the support of national Republicans and the chances of him knocking off Hagan were low. In the end, the allure of moving to Washington D.C. was not enough to persuade him to abandon his position as arguably the most powerful Republican in Raleigh.
Berger’s exit paves the way for his friend, State Senator Pete Brunstetter of Winston-Salem, who he says would be a “formidable candidate”. As for Berger’s lack of support for his House counterpart, Thom Tillis? People will “have to draw their own conclusions”. Right now, I’d say the odds are that Brunstetter decides to run, but he could be convinced to stay put by national Republicans anxious to avoid a primary.
The other potential candidate we haven’t heard from yet, Jim Cain, has fallen off the face of the earth. Cain would have been an even bigger threat to a Tillis nomination than Berger would have. But Cain is a team player and has probably deferred to the wishes of the NRSC, who want him to stay out. Cain has passed up on opportunities for elective office before and never seemed all that interested in a bid. That Berger is trying to convince Brunstetter to run should be seen as evidence that Cain has made up his mind not to enter the contest.
The spotlight will now turn to the State Senator from Winston-Salem. Could Brunstetter actually become the nominee? It’s too early to say how much support he’ll garner, or even if he’ll run period. But it goes without saying that even if Berger isn’t an actual candidate, he’ll still try to complicate things for Tillis down the road.