The Republican primary in the US Senate race in North Carolina is five weeks from tomorrow and the airwaves are filling up with millions of dollars in ads paid for by out-of-state interests.
The GOP sees incumbent Kay Hagan as unpopular and vulnerable and has its eyes on taking over the US Senate – starting by defeating what they see as a weak Democrat.
First the Republicans will have to settle a battle within their own party over whether Thom Tillis is the heir apparent. Governor McCrory came one step short of endorsing Tillis last week. Negative TV ads already call him out by name.
Upcoming televised debates are winnowing down the field, eliminating four of eight candidates who are polling at less than seven percent. A half-hour debate planned for WRAL-TV in Raleigh initially left out Charlotte’s Mark Harris, former Pastor at First Baptist Church, over the protests of his campaign -- which is planning “a significant ad buy.”
“Once Marks’s message spreads to the voters, we’ll take off,” said campaign manager Mike Rusher, claiming polls are “trending upward” for Rev. Harris.
While Tillis is the only candidate polling above 20 percent, it takes 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. In a recent Time Warner Cable News poll, 34 percent of likely GOP voters said they were undecided.
“I don’t think it’s inevitable at all,” said Ted Alexander, former Mayor of Shelby and one of the field of eight who is struggling in single digits. “There’s almost a certainty there will be a runoff.”
“I think there’s still a lot of campaigning to do,” said Michael Grant, campaign manager for Heather Grant, a nurse practitioner and US Army veteran from Wilkesboro. Grant is running third or fourth in the field of eight, depending on which poll you believe.
“We encourage voters to hear from all candidates before they make their minds up,” said Grant.
As for the campaign manager of the nominee some call “inevitable,” Jordan Shaw says Tillis “is developing a campaign infrastructure that is capable of beating Kay Hagan in November.”
An expensive and divisive runoff would take a chunk out of that infrastructure. More unpopular than President Obama or Governor McCrory in North Carolina is the state legislature, of which Thom Tillis was leader as speaker.
Tillis is a front runner, but that does not make him inevitable.