US Senate race off to crowded start

Posted February 28, 2014

— The Republican primary for U.S. Senate has turned into a campaign straight from central casting. 

Thom Tillis, the state House speaker with backing from national Republican leaders, is an establishment-backed candidate with a fundraising and polling lead over two chief rivals. Dr. Greg Brannon, a tea party favorite, and the Rev. Mark Harris, who has drawn support from social conservatives, have enough of a statewide impact to challenge him.

"Each candidate is filling out the stereotypes in the Republican Party as it exists today," said Brad Crone, a Democratic campaign strategist who does not work on federal campaigns.

There are five other candidates who have filed to run in the Republican primary, but political analysts say they have not thus far built the kind of organizations needed to contend for a statewide office. 

"It's hard to imagine anyone else, any of the other candidates, having a legitimate shot," said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University n Raleigh. "It would take a game-changing kind of situation for one of those lesser-known candidates to catch up to Harris and Brannon."

The winner of the primary will take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and the winner of the Libertarian primary.

There will be a Democratic primary between Hagan and Will Stewart, a small-business owner and self-described "average guy" from Hampstead, and Ernest Reeves of Greenville, who registered to run just before the close of filing Friday. Crone, McLennan and others who have discussed this race say an incumbent has little to fear from virtually unknown challengers.

The Libertarian primary will feature Sean Haugh, a longtime party activist, and Tim D'Annunzio, who has twice run for Congress as a Republican. Fewer than 0.5 percent of North Carolina voters are registered as Libertarians.

Before Republicans can focus on Hagan, however, the GOP contenders have to take on the task of differentiating themselves from one another. 

Candidate filing for the May 6 primary closed Friday at noon. In addition to U.S. Senate, candidates for the U.S. House, the state General Assembly, the state Supreme Court, district attorney and local offices across the state filed to run this year. 

The U.S. Senate Race

North Carolina will hold is primary for U.S. Senate and other elections on May 6. The one-stop early voting period begins on April 24.


Kay Hagan: The incumbent will finish her first six-year term this year.

Will Stewart: The owner of a small IT business describes himself as "just an average guy running for U.S. Senate."

Ernest Reeves, a Greenville resident who registered to run for office just before the close of the filing period.


Thom Tillis: The speaker of the N.C. State House is the best known and financed of the Republican candidates.

Jim Snyder: A Lexington attorney and former lawmaker, Snyder has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor.

Edward Kryn: A retired doctor, Kryn writes that he left his native Canada and became a U.S. citizen because "I saw my own profession embark on a secular path that turned its back on the Hippocratic Oath as it came to embrace abortion and the homosexual agenda."

Mark Harris: Harris is a Baptist minister who helped push for North Carolina's constitutional amendment on marriage is best known as the former president of the State Baptist Convention.

Heather Grant: A Wilkes County nurse, Grant is an army veteran who describes herself as a "Constitutional Conservative."

Dr. Greg BrannonA Cary OBGYN, Brannon has gotten favorable nods from conservative stalwarts like Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter.

Ted Alexander: The former mayor of Shelby says he is running to combat "federal over-regulations and a seemingly endless stream of high taxes, and now the insidious nightmare of Obamacare."

Alex Lee Bradshaw, an Icard resident who registered to run for office just before the close of the filing period.


Sean Haugh: Haugh was the 2002 Libertarian nominee for Senate and is the Libertarian Party's former state executive director.

Tim D'Annunzio: D'Annunzio has twice run for Congress as a Republican. In 2012, he was the Republican nominee but lost to Democrat David Price in the 4th Congressional District.

In addition to the three front runners, the remainder of the Republican U.S. Senate field includes Jim Snyder, a Lexington attorney and relatively late entry into the race. He was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2008 and could leverage support based on name recognition. Edward Kryn, a retired doctor from Clayton, Heather Grant, a nurse from Wilkesboro, and former Shelby mayor Ted Alexander are also on the ballot. Alex Lee Bradshaw of Icard registered to run as a Republican just before filing closed. 

But Tillis, Harris and Brannon are leading the race in most ways that can be measured, such as polling, fundraising and endorsements. 

Based on those endorsements, the three top candidates have taken on very specific roles.

Tillis, a former business consultant who has been state House Speaker for the past two years, has drawn support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who hosted a fundraiser for him, and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, whose PAC has donated to his campaign. He has also gotten support from GOPAC, an organization that helps recruit mainstream Republican candidates, and BIPAC, a national committee that supports business-friendly candidates. 

That establishment support is a double-edged sword from Tillis, who has faced criticism from the hard-right, tea party wing of the Republican Party. Tillis has, by and large, skipped candidates forums hosted by tea party-aligned groups.

"We can't afford to nominate a candidate to take on Kay Hagan that hides from the grassroots conservatives in his own party by dodging candidate forums," Brannon wrote in a fundraising email.

In an advertisement, Brannon takes another shot at Tillis, showing his face as a narrator says voters are "fed up with career politicians." 

Asked about this, Tillis points out that, until 2007, when he was sworn into the state House, the only body to which he had been elected was a local PTA board. He doesn't shy away from what government experience he does have. 

"One thing that's going to be a stark difference, these other candidates – many of them are very good people. Let's say all of them. The big difference between them and me is what they're going to tell the people of North Carolina," he said. "These people are going to tell you about something they may do. I get to tell you about the things I have done as speaker of the House."

Brannon has leaned heavily on his affinity with the tea party, generally seen as the wing of the party that believes in paring back government spending and severely curtailing the role of the federal government in the economy. 

"I have a man-crush," radio talker Glenn Beck said recently while interviewing Brannon.

The Cary obstetrician has also gotten favorable nods from Fox News personality Ann Coulter and endorsements from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, all favorites of the tea party. Brannon's list of endorsements also includes iCaucus, a group of North Carolina tea party groups, the Beaufort tea party, Conservatives for Guilford County, Moore TEA Citizens and the political action committee for FreedomWorks, a national group that helps organize conservative activists.

"We can't just send somebody to Washington. We need to send the right person to Washington," Matt Kibbe, president of the FreedomWorks PAC, said at a recent Raleigh event. "It's our best judgment that Greg will join some people I'm pretty proud of in Washington – guys like Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul."

Harris meanwhile has tapped support from fellow minister and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, along with several North Carolina political figures such as former state Senate budget chairman Pete Brunstetter, former Sen. Jim Jacumin and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake. He has also won endorsements from three national political action committees: National Organization for Marriage, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. All three cited Harris' credentials as a social conservative in their endorsements.

"Harris is a pro-life, pro-family conservative who will lead on critical issues from the moment he arrives in Washington," said Penny Nance, chief executive of the Concerned Women PAC.

The challenge for Harris and Brannon, said McLennan, is to build upon their natural constituencies and build enough support to overtake the lead, or at least prevent Tillis from winning the 40 percent of the primary vote he will need to avoid a runoff.

"It will be interesting to see if (they)... can team up against the establishment candidate," McLennan said, noting that has happened in other campaigns across the country.

In the meantime, he said, Tillis will be trying to hold on to his support from mainstream Republican backers while trying to peel off enough social and tea party conservatives to avoid a second primary. McLennan pointed to Tillis remarks earlier this week in which he said he had "serious concerns" about the minimum wage and its effects on the free market as calibrated to appeal to tea party conservatives.

"Tillis has got a very long tight-rope to walk," McLennan said.


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  • Rebelyell55 Mar 3, 2014

    It's really is sad day for polictics here in NC. The choices are bad or worse, and one can hope that the individual that is elected does the least amount of damage to our state and country.

  • Jack Jones Mar 3, 2014
    user avatar

    My family supports Kay Hagan. These Republican primaries will be interesting, but hating and attacking struggling families won't get them the Senate seat.

  • Charlie Watkins Mar 1, 2014
    user avatar

    I will vote for that man that the jury found liable of misleading investors in some business deal. That is who I want managing the money of the United States. At least we know where he stands on financial dealings. LOL

  • Justic4All Feb 28, 2014

    I am pretty much LMAO over this whole sheeenanagens.

    WRAL has the headline "US Senate race off to crowded start" with the opening sentence that explains the subject of the story "Raleigh, N.C. — The Republican primary for U.S. Senate has turned into a campaign straight from central casting" yet the picture used is that of Kay Hagan with her campaign slogan of "Carolina First". I mean come on, who's side is the media on? Regarding the Republican candidate crowd, the 5 wish they coulds should save their money and get out of the way and not take cheap shots at the big guys. Don't know the Doc and religion and politics should never be mixed, except in NC. But not ewven one picture of the GOP candidates who the story is suppose to be about. Come on media, report the news, don't create it.

  • PanthersFan45 Feb 28, 2014

    The ACA will be the issue w/o a doubt. If Hagen were in a left leaning state her seat would be safe but she isn't. There are more UNA and GOP voters (combined) than DNC voters (alone). The ACA remains unpopular here overall from every poll I've seen. You won't see Obama here stumping for her ..... I think she is a 1-term senator. I'm a UNA voter and I see this race as very difficult for her.

  • Alan Baker Feb 28, 2014
    user avatar

    The strong money is already on Tillis and it's why even a lot of normally Republican voters will be voting Hagan. With the exception of those who've swallowed the regressive snake-oil about the ACA, most centrist voters recognize that Tillis has been indifferent to the welfare of North Carolina and doesn't deserve to get close to the national stage. Those who have, well, they're going to vote against their interests anyway so it doesn't matter what other sad cutouts the GOP makes dance this round. All I know is the money from my home and business that would have gone to a GOP candidate is gong to Hagan this year.

  • Confucius say Feb 28, 2014

    It'll be very refreshing to get some conservative leadership to represent NC. LIberalism has destroyed this country.

  • Monkey_Joe Feb 28, 2014

    Never underestimate the power of the dumb to elect their own. As proof, I cite our last two presidents. Dumb and dumber in real life...

  • glarg Feb 28, 2014

    It least she has a sense of ironic humor with these "North Carolina First" signs the stooges are holding in the photo op.

    She is a ghost in this state, only interested in attending Chapel Hill fundraisers and being told how to vote from Reid/Pelosi.

  • WRAL_USER Feb 28, 2014

    The ACA is the only thing saving NC citizens from the perils of the NCGOP. Simply noise from the radical, evil GOP... NC will have its revenge. Vote against the GOP at all times and at all levels!!!! Had Patty and the rest of the illegitimate GOP gang had their way, we would all be indentured servants for the legislature... talk about dear leader... Its not Patty, its little "ride on Daddy's coat tails to riches and power" Arty Pope running the show... Worthless one and all!