The big news to emerge from Tuesday night’s primaries is that Thom Tillis won the Republican Senate race in North Carolina, with a commanding lead over his major challengers, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris. Because he won with more than 40 percent of the vote, Tillis will avoid a runoff, which is the best strategic outcome for the Republican Party. An extended primary slugfest would have eaten up campaign funds and weakened the eventual winner – which would most likely have been Tillis anyway, given that he finished a bit ahead of Brannon and Harris’ totals combined (There were other candidates in the primary as well, so Tillis didn’t break 50% of the total.)
Tillis was the “Establishment” candidate in the race, racking up endorsements from the National Right to Life Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, along with enormous financial support from outside groups like American Crossroads. His Tea Party challengers were hard-pressed to compete with that kind of firepower, or with the rather obvious assessment by Democrats that Tillis was the opponent they most feared in 2014 – they ran an expensive and extremely dirty negative-campaigning operation against him, especially during the final weeks of the primary. Perhaps they laid it on a bit too thick, and ended up raising Tillis’ stature in the eyes of Republican primary voters. For all the perpetual pundit hand-wringing about the evils of negative campaigning, it’s generally effective – otherwise politicians wouldn’t do it – but there’s always the risk of a backlash, especially when meddling in the other party’s primary.
Tillis will now face Democrat incumbent Senator Kay Hagan, one of the more vulnerable Democrats in this election cycle. Democrats fell all over themselves to demonstrate why, after Hagan won her own primary by a less-than-inspiring margin. From Fox News:
Tillis, giving his nomination victory speech, continued his criticism of Hagan, saying she’s too closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and has failed to halt President Obama’s most destructive policies, chiefly the federal health care overhaul. Hagan voted for the law.
“Our republic was founded on separate but equal branches, a system with checks and balances,” Tillis told cheering supporters at a Charlotte hotel. “But Kay Hagan hasn’t provided any balance whatsoever when it’s come to having a check on Obama. She’s done nothing but abandoned her post for the last six years.”
Tillis scarcely had time to savor his victory before the Democrats unloaded on him Tuesday night.
“No one in the country has done more for the Koch brothers than Thom Tillis — cutting public education nearly $500 million, cutting taxes for the wealthy while refusing pay raises for teachers and killing an equal pay bill,” the party’s Democratic senatorial committee said in a statement referring to the billionaire businessman brothers whom party leaders hope to make into national whipping boys in the fall campaign.
The National Rifle Association countered for Tillis, saying in a statement of its own that “Thom has long been one of most effective gun rights advocates in North Carolina.”
That’s right, Democrats, keep babbling about the Koch Brothers, no matter how many polls pop up to show that nobody cares. Democrat base voters might be untroubled by the contradiction between Democrats peddling nutball Koch conspiracies from coast to coast, while simultaneously claiming that only conspiracy theorists are interested in stories like the Benghazi scandal, and stepping smartly to do the bidding of left-wing sugar daddies like Tom Steyer, but the rest of the electorate might find it all a bit hard to swallow.
How vulnerable is Senator Hagan over her vote on ObamaCare? So vulnerable that she tried running fraudulent ads during her dirty-tricks campaign against Tillis painting him as the ObamaCare supporter in a contest against her. It didn’t work, since Tillis won the primary, and now Hagan’s going to pay a price in the general election for that little scam.
Elsewhere in North Carolina, incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers, who arrived in the Tea Party wave election of 2010, won her primary… and might end up facing “American Idol” and “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Clay Aiken, a political newcomer currently locked in a dead heat for the Democratic nomination against Keith Crisco, a relic of the disastrous Bev Purdue gubernatorial administration.
In Ohio, House Speaker John Boehner won with 69 percent of the vote against a Tea Party opponent, J.D. Winteregg, who lost his job as a high-school teacher after running an anti-Boehner ad that mimicked advertisements for erectile-dysfunction medication.
Along with Tillis’ win in North Carolina, this will fuel a thousand “death of the Tea Party editorials.” As long as Republicans don’t take those editorials seriously, they should do fine in the 2014 general election. The vibrancy of a political movement is not measured solely by its ability to defeat candidates with titanic financial and incumbency advantages in a few primaries – a lesson Republicans will learn the hard way, if they alienate the supposedly dead Tea Party enough to keep them home in November. For example, if North Carolina Republicans conclude they can safely ignore the people who held a candidate with just about every advantage imaginable – including the palpable fear of his Democrat opponent – to less than 50 percent of the primary vote, they’re making a hideous mistake. For what it’s worth, I didn’t get that vibe from Tillis or his people on primary night.
Conversely, the Tea Party’s ideal long-term objective is to integrate with the Republican Party and change it for the better, not beat it senseless and allow Democrats to romp through general election campaigns. It would be optimistic to say such integration is definitely occurring right now, but it’s something to hope for. Failing to knock off the sitting Speaker of the House in his primary is no reason for Tea Party samurai to start committing seppuku. Capturing the attention of Republican Party leadership is a worthwhile goal… if they can hold it.