Raleigh, N.C. — Heather Grant, a nurse who served in the Army from 2009 through 2012, is not one the most talked-about candidates in the eight-way Republican U.S. Senate primary.
But in recent polls, including a WRAL News survey released this week, Grant consistently shows she is somewhere between the top echelon of candidates and those barely pulling single digits.
State House Speaker Thom Tillis, the front-runner, along with the Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary, have gotten most the attention from the media, pundits and opposing campaigns. The winner of the election will take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
However, Grant is forcing people to take notice after besting Harris in the WRAL News survey and other recent polls.
Several political scientists looking at Grant's poll numbers have speculated that she has benefited from a gender effect because she is the only female name in the field. However, Grant is running the type of low-level campaign that doesn't necessarily catch the attention of statewide or national media – she lacks high-profile endorsements or big broadcast media buys – but can win over voters nonetheless.
The question is whether her low-key tactics are enough to allow her to make up ground against Tillis, or at least be the second-place finisher who has the option of calling for a runoff if Tillis does not garner 40 percent of the vote. Right now, most polls show Brannon winning that second-place spot.
"Mostly what we're doing is going to the different groups and speaking," Grant said in a phone interview Friday. "We're going anywhere we're asked to go."
Those groups are mainly local Republican and tea party groups.
Grant is also using volunteers and a small campaign war chest to reach out to a mass audience. Those include a combination of live-operator calls and well as automated recorded calls. She said she also will be doing some limited advertising on cable.
"I've not raised the hundreds of thousands of dollars like the others," she said.
According to the Federal Elections Commission, Grant spent $10,781 on her campaign through the end of 2013. That number also puts her between candidates who reported no fundraising in 2013 and those who are aiming to build million-dollar campaign accounts.
Candidates will next report their fundraising and spending in April for the first three months of the year.
In terms of her platform, Grant is philosophically closest to Brannon of the three front-runners. Like Brannon, she emphasizes fiscal issues such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and controlling federal spending.
Unlike Brannon, she is not given to citing lengthy quotes from the U.S. Constitution or federalists' papers.
That plain-spoken style is an appeal to voters, Grant said.
"One of my eight points of reform is that our laws and regulations need to be written in ways that people can understand," she said.
While her pitch isn't couched in constitutional citations, she said, "What I say is what I believe."
Grant is a first-time candidate. Asked why she's taking on a campaign for statewide office before running for a seat in local government or in the state legislature, she said, "The U.S. Senate is where I see the greatest need."
Asked to draw a distinction between Tillis and herself, Grant points to her time in the Army as an asset.
"I have proven with my military background that I can handle leadership, not just managing," she said.
She said that a priority for her would be not just serving in the U.S. Senate but helping to develop a new generation of conservative leaders.
Like all the other Republican candidates, Grant said she would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Asked how she would replace it, she referred to plans that would allow health insurance companies to create more competition by offering plans across state lines.
The bigger challenge, she said, would be disentangling the changes made to Medicaid, the joint federal-state insurer for the poor and disabled, and Medicare, the federally-run health insurance program for the elderly.
"One of the things that I found that would save us a great deal of money in my research is that, if we stopped those people who are here illegally from being able to sign up for and get Medicaid, we would save our state and federal governments a lot of money," Grant said.
Overall, Grant said, she emphasizes that she is someone in touch with "everyday reality," who will come back and work in her community after serving in Congress.
"When you look at who it is whose been in Washington for a while, with gas prices going up 10 cents every two weeks, does it really make a difference to them? But to the people out here who are working and working two jobs just to make ends meet, 10 cents a gallon is a lot to those people."