The Party Line
4:07 pm
Wed March 5, 2014

Breaking Down U.S. Senate Hopefuls

Michael Bitzer

The eight Republican U.S. Senate candidates who hope to take on Sen. Kay Hagan in the fall can be divided into three tiers.

Typically, we would consider “top tier” candidates who have run and held public office before, meaning they have financial resources, campaign organization, and some name recognition.

So far, one candidate has achieved most of those qualities, and that is NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis. Before ascending to the speakership, Tillis served as the campaign chairman for the House Republican Caucus, which laid a foundation for contacts and (more importantly) favors given to candidates and future connections.

One of the big strikes against Tillis has been so-so fundraising and a less-than-impressive level of state-wide name recognition. Even though he leads the state’s house of representatives, a recent Elon Poll had his name recognition up to only 38% among registered voters. In other polls, such as from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, Tillis garnered only 20% of GOP primary voter support, although he led other candidates. One positive is that even with the low party support, Tillis still matches, within PPP’s margin of error, Hagan in a possible general election race.

The second tier of candidates are those who don’t have the resources and built-in infrastructure, but are appealing to a key group within the Republican Party’s base.  For Dr. Greg Brannon and Rev. Mark Harris, those groups are the Tea Party and social conservatives.  In addition, they are banking on “endorsements” to give them momentum when they don’t necessarily have the financial or party network connections.

The remainder of the field is comprised of candidates who don’t have the resources or capabilities to muster the needed resources, but instead could be considered “vanity candidates” because of the highly unlikely chances of winning.

The question in my mind for the battle to be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate is: who emerges to become the inevitable “anti-Tillis” candidate?  It would seem that Brannon and Harris are the natural candidates for this role, but anything can happen to when in primary elections in which extremely low voter turnout is expected.

In the next post, a discussion of how, for many seats in the North Carolina General Assembly, the ‘real’ election is only two months away, and not in November.