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The Tea Party Will Quickly Learn To Love ‘Establishment’ Candidate Thom Tillis

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis cruised to a surprisingly comfortable victory in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, and the media reaction was quick and dramatic.

“GOP establishment 1, Tea Party 0,” CNN declared.

“The Tea Party’s North Carolina wipeout,” Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote.

The results are “sending shivers down the spine of Tea Party leadership,” MSNBC’s Tamron Hall exclaimed on News Nation.

There is some truth in these reactions. National Republicans who waded into the race divided along the usual “civil war” battle lines, with “establishment” heavyweights such as Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads backing Tillis, and Tea Party figures like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and FreedomWorks lining up behind the second-place finisher, right-wing obstetrician Greg Brannon.

But while their favored candidate may have lost on Tuesday, Tea Party leaders should still be feeling pretty good about the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in November. Despite his establishment label, Tillis is poised to represent the right’s interests perfectly if North Carolinians send him to Washington.

Tillis has served in North Carolina’s General Assembly since 2007, and as speaker since 2011. It would be hard to have a more conservative record than he’s compiled in that time. Under Tillis’ leadership, the legislature rewrote the state’s tax code to the benefit of the rich and the detriment of the poor, cut $500 million from public education while shifting money towards school vouchers, slashed unemployment benefits, imposed some of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the nation (by quietly attaching them to an unrelated motorcycle safety bill), passed a set of draconian voting laws that limit access to the ballot (particularly for black voters), and essentially made it illegal to predict that the sea level will rise. And that only scratches the surface of the right’s plans for the state.

Throughout his Senate campaign, Tillis has made no effort to distance himself from the far-right legislature he leads. On the contrary; he’s declared that he’s proud of the state’s “conservative revolution,” and proposed ways to push North Carolina even further to the right. For example, he’s suggested that Congress should eradicate the minimum wage altogether.

Even as Tillis was scoring a victory for the “establishment” on Tuesday, video emerged of him urging his fellow Republicans to “divide and conquer” Americans on public assistance.

“We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help,” he says in the tape, which was filmed in 2011. “And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say ‘at some point, you’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’”

On Wednesday morning, the newly minted Republican candidate said he regretted the phrasing he used in the video — but he declined to back away from the sentiment.

It’s true that Tillis is not as far to the right as Brannon, the Tea Party’s chosen candidate. But who could be? Brannon, who argued that food stamps are equivalent to slavery, and that interstate toll roads are fascism, was about as extreme as a candidate could get, even in a southern Republican primary. But that doesn’t make Tillis a moderate — something that conservative voters understood going into the polls.

Tea Party groups also understand this; it’s why they wasted no time in lining up behind Tillis after Brannon conceded on Tuesday, and it’s likely why they put barely any money behind Brannon’s campaign to begin with (although a more cynical observer might conclude that they had other reasons for holding on to the cash).

Make no mistake: Although he “defeated” them in the primary, if Tillis does go on to defeat Kay Hagan in November, Tea Party Republicans will end up overjoyed with the Senate’s newest ultraconservative.

Photo: North Carolina National Guard via Flickr

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Tillis Wins Outright For GOP Senate Nomination In North Carolina

By John Frank, The News & Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thom Tillis emerged as a clear victor Tuesday in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, overpowering a tea party challenge with help from Washington power-brokers who saw him as the best candidate to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan in November.

The House speaker, running on his conservative shift at the state level, exceeded the 40 percent mark necessary to avoid a July 15 runoff election, even with strong pushes at the end from his top rivals, obstetrician Greg Brannon and pastor Mark Harris.

The Associated Press called the race just after 9:20 p.m. The 100-plus Tillis supporters at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte erupted in cheers.

The primary pitted three factions of the state GOP against each other in a race viewed as a proxy for the divisions at the national level and possibly the 2016 presidential contest.

Hagan easily won her primary contest against two opponents who didn’t mount any campaign.

The winner this fall could tilt the partisan balance in the closely split U.S. Senate, and North Carolina’s importance in the national picture is readily apparent in the nearly $20 million spent by outside political groups in recent months to influence the race, particularly voters’ opinions about the federal health care law.

Tens of millions more in outside spending is expected in the months ahead in a race that likely will top state spending records.

“I would expect you’re going to start seeing a battle almost immediately,” said Thomas Mills, a Democratic strategist who ran the party’s 2010 U.S. Senate candidate against Republican Richard Burr. “And I think you’ll start seeing pretty quickly a return to beating up on Kay Hagan.”

The top three candidates came into the race with natural supporters, though the fierce battle expected at the beginning of the election didn’t fully materialize.

Running as the leader of the conservative shift in the statehouse, Tillis won endorsements from Republican power-brokers, including Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, and received help from two Super PACs.

Brannon tapped into Tea Party energy, staking out far-right positions as he emphasized a strict constitutional approach and received the backing of like-minded libertarian Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

Harris, a former state Baptist convention leader, stressed a “values” message that catered to his supporters in the faith community but struggled to get traction from a larger audience.

Five other candidates also appeared on the ballot.

Tillis managed to emerge from the heap with his financial advantage. Unlike the other candidates, Tillis was able to reach a broad swatch of voters with a million-dollar television advertising campaign and a $2.4 million boost from his allies.

His fundraising prowess and experience as a top lawmaker gave him an electability quality that helped sway Republican voters.

“We need some change in North Carolina,” said Ashley Van Wormer, a 44-year-old sales trainer from Cary, who voted for Tillis. We need “conservative values but not too far conservative. We need to elect somebody that can win.”

A runoff would have scrambled the picture because it’s held in the middle of summer when fewer people than ever were expected to participate. “Anything can happen in runoff. It’s sort of a wild west scenario,” said Andy Yates, a Republican strategist. “It’s about who is able to turn their voters out.”

The top three candidates all worked polling locations to win final votes before polls closed at 7:30 p.m. Tillis and Harris stuck close to home in the Charlotte area, while Brannon visited locations near Raleigh.

Amanda Huff, 33, of Raleigh was a patient of Brannon’s a decade ago — but it was only this winter, when a friend invited her to volunteer, that she learned how well their politics matched.

“As soon as I realized he was a Republican, and more importantly a conservative, I said ‘Absolutely,’ ” Huff said.

Her friend, Andrea Chisek, joined her at the dim-lit Architect Bar and Social House in downtown Raleigh, where close to 100 people gathered to cheer Brannon on Tuesday night.

Most impressive to Huff is Brannon’s ability to “bring everything back to the Constitution — article and everything.”

In Charlotte, Tom Davis joined more than a 100 Tillis supporters at the Omni Hotel downtown after spending the day trying to win votes at area precincts. He expected a close race but felt Tillis’ years as speaker makes him better qualified. “He’s been in the trenches and fought,” the 67-year-old said. “He’s experienced.”

Contractor Jon Rufty is looking for a different campaign for November. “Like all national politics, it’s just way too polarized,” the 59-year-old independent voter said. “It’s frustrating that the statesmanship is no longer alive on the national level. And I think both sides fall into that category.”

Rufty voted in the Republican primary but wouldn’t identify his favorite. For November, he said his vote is up for grabs. “I am looking for, especially at the national level, the parties to work together for what’s best for the country.”

Photo: North Carolina National Guard via Flickr

Republicans Head To Polls, Flirt With Disaster In North Carolina

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

Midterm Poll Roundup: Is Crist In Trouble?

As the 2014 midterm elections draw closer, an avalanche of polling data will emerge on the key races that will decide who controls the House of Representatives, the Senate, and statehouses across the country. What follows is a brief summary of some key polls from the week of April 20:

Florida
Florida’s gubernatorial race remains one of the closest in the nation, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released this week.

The poll finds incumbent governor Rick Scott (R) and former governor Charlie Crist (D) deadlocked at 42 percent; 4 percent support Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, and 12 percent are undecided.

Crist has some key underlying advantages; he leads Scott among Hispanic voters by 8 percent, and among women voters by 10 percent. Still, Scott’s strong numbers among men, seniors, and Republicans have him running even with the likely Democratic nominee — which has Crist advisor Steve Schale calling foul.

“I don’t believe that there’s a poll that could show Charlie Crist winning women by 10 points and winning Hispanics and winning the Tampa media market that has the race dead even. I just don’t believe that’s possible,” Schale told the Tampa Bay Times. “All due respect to Mr. Coker [the pollster], he also suggested Mitt Romney was going to win Florida by seven points.”

Despite Schale’s skepticism, however, the Mason-Dixon poll is not much of an outlier. According to The Huffington Post’s polling average, Crist leads Scott by 4 percent — just outside the Mason-Dixon poll’s +/- 3.8 percent margin of error.

Inaccurate polls may soon be the least of Crist’s concerns, however. On Thursday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) told a group of business leaders that he is “tempted” to jump into the race. Were Nelson to run, he would immediately become the favorite to defeat Crist, who was a Republican until 2010, in a Democratic primary.

Colorado
A Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday is the latest in a string of surveys to find that Colorado’s Senate race is too close to call.

The poll finds incumbent senator Mark Udall (D) leading U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R), 45 to 44 percent — well within the +/- 2.7 percent margin of error; 8 percent are undecided.

Voters have a relatively positive opinion of Udall — 43 percent view him favorably, while 38 percent view him unfavorably — but they rate him negatively on the key issues in the race. When asked which is the most important issue affecting their voting decision, 15 percent said jobs and the economy, and 14 percent said health care (no other issue registered higher than 5 percent).

Gardner is leading Udall among economy-focused voters, 53 to 40 percent. He holds an even greater 57 to 36 percent lead among voters who are focused on health care.

The campaign is likely to remain close throughout the summer; almost every poll of the race has found it to be a virtual tie.

North Carolina
Tar Heel State Republicans could dodge a Tea Party bullet, according to a SurveyUSA/Civitas poll released Thursday. The survey found state House Speaker Thom Tillis with a 19 percent lead over Dr. Greg Brannon in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate—39 percent of Republican primary voters back Tillis, while 20 percent support Brannon, and 15 percent favor pastor Mark Harris.

Tillis’ 39 percent leaves him right on the cusp of winning the May 6 primary outright; if no candidate garners 40 percent of the vote, however, the top two finishers will face off in a July 15 primary.

Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is clearly hoping for such a scenario. Her campaign has been running ads suggesting that Tillis is not a true opponent of Obamacare, in an attempt to push conservative voters away from Tillis — and towards the erratic, gaffe-prone Brannon.

Kansas
Kansas may be one of the most conservative states in the nation, but its voters appear to be running out of patience with Republican governor Sam Brownback.

According to a Rasmussen poll released Monday, Brownback leads Democratic state Rep. Paul Davis by a 47 to 40 percent margin, with 6 percent supporting some other candidate and 7 percent undecided.

While that 7 percent lead falls far short of the 31 percent margin by which Brownback won in 2010, it actually represents an improvement from previous polls of the race. In February, Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found Davis leading Brownback by 2 percent.

Although Rasmussen, a Republican pollster, shows Brownback holding a slight lead, Kansas Republicans are clearly preparing for the possibility that he could lose in November. This week, Governor Brownback signed a law stipulating that any Medicaid expansion must be explicitly approved by the reliably Republican state legislature — meaning that Kansas will not take part in that key aspect of the Affordable Care Act, even if a Democrat becomes governor.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons