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One of the nation’s most divisive Senate primaries could come to an end on Tuesday — if the GOP is lucky.

North Carolina Republicans are preparing to head to the polls to select their nominee to challenge embattled incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) in the November general election. The race, which features nearly a dozen candidates, has narrowed to three contenders: state House Speaker Thom Tillis, obstetrician Greg Brannon, and pastor Mark Harris.

Tillis, the frontrunner, boasts a strong fundraising advantage and the support of some of the party’s biggest names; over the past several weeks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and possible 2016 nominee Jeb Bush have all lent Tillis their support. But his path to the nomination is far from clear. Brannon, who has gone to extreme lengths to establish himself as the most conservative candidate in the race, boasts strong right-wing support — and some big name endorsements of his own, in the persons of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). And Harris retains strong support among social conservatives.

Tillis is almost certain to finish in first place in Tuesday’s primary. Whether he will do so by a large enough margin, however, is an open question. If no candidate wins more than 40 percent of the vote, then the top two finishers will advance to a July 15 runoff.

The two most recent polls of the race show Tillis right on the border of winning outright. A SurveyUSA poll sponsored by the right-wing Civitas Institute found Tillis at 39 percent, with 20 percent supporting Brannon, 15 percent backing Harris, and 19 percent undecided. And a poll released Monday by left-leaning Public Policy Polling found Tillis at 40 percent, with Brannon at 28 percent, Harris at 15 percent, and 11 percent undecided.

National Republicans should be crossing their fingers, hoping that Tillis is able to crack 40 percent on Tuesday. If not, it could significantly damage the party’s chances of defeating Hagan (and thus, their chances of winning a Senate majority.)

A runoff would likely pit Tillis against Brannon, creating a three-month showcase for the GOP “civil war.” While Tillis has an extremely conservative record in North Carolina’s legislature, Tea Party groups such as FreedomWorks, Gun Owners for America, and Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund have rallied behind Brannon’s cause. Groups that have supported Harris may join them. While Brannon may not be able to consolidate enough Tea Party support to leapfrog Tillis in the runoff, he would likely force Tillis to run even further to the right — opening up new lines of attack for Hagan in the general election. And even if Tillis survives such a runoff, it would cost the GOP huge sums of money and three months and that it could otherwise have spent focusing on Hagan alone.

If Brannon does manage to win the nomination, however, then Republicans will have a huge problem on their hands. Even in North Carolina, Brannon’s positions are far outside of the mainstream; Democrats would certainly love the opportunity to cut attack ads on Brannon’s suggestion that food aid “enslaves people,” or on his dabbling in 9/11 trutherism.

Senator Hagan clearly understands how valuable a runoff would be to her political hopes; the incumbent Democrat has been running ads suggesting that Tillis’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act is insincere, in a barely veiled attempt to give a late boost to Brannon’s candidacy.

Photo: Mr T in DC via Flickr

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.