Raleigh, N.C. — A new cable television spot by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is spurring renewed speculation about whether he'll run for U.S. Senate.
Berger, R-Rockingham, has toyed for months with a possible run in the 2014 election but had been putting off a decision.
House Speaker Thom Tillis is already a declared candidate. If Berger were to get into the race, it would set up a showdown between the legislature's two top Republicans for the chance to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
"He's still very much undecided," said Ray Martin, a political adviser to Berger. Others close to Berger expect an announcement within the next 10 days or so.
Berger's new television ad highlights the issue of requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
"Shouldn't you show a photo ID to vote? Liberals like Obama and Kay Hagan say no," intones an announcer during the 30-second spot. "Now, thanks to Phil Berger, voters must show a valid photo ID to vote."
Leaving aside the debate over whether requiring voters to show ID is a good idea, it's worth noting that it was the House, led by Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, that first passed a voter ID bill following a pair of high-profile public hearings. Berger's ad also doesn't mention the other parts of the election bill that made the measure much more controversial, including provisions that alter the early voting period, end same-day registration for in-person absentee voting and dozens of other changes to how people vote and how elections are funded.
It's also noteworthy that the ad takes aim at national politicians, including Hagan, who hasn't served in the state Senate since 2008.
"He (Berger) thinks its important to educate the voters about the successes of the legislative session," Martin said.
Hagan has called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the new voting law.
"I strongly encourage the Justice Department to immediately review North Carolina House Bill 589 and take all appropriate steps to protect federal civil rights and the fundamental right to vote," Hagan said in August.
The ad attracted the attention of national press, with The Washington Post touting the ad as a sign that Berger would run for U.S. Senate over the weekend. A Post story described the ad as "a statewide advertisement" that indicated Berger was "hinting he might have a grander stage in mind."
However, the ad is running only in the Greensboro market and only on cable, not broadcast television.
A news release from the Berger committee describes the effort as a "six-week TV and web campaign" that "totals more than $100,000." A public disclosure form filed by Time Warner Cable showed Berger spending $68,000 on the cable television end of the buy.
Hagan's campaign responded to the Berger ad on Monday.
“Kay is standing up for access to the ballot box for all voters because she believes this fundamental right shouldn’t be a political football,” said Preston Elliott, Hagan’s campaign manager.