Thursday, March 27, 2014

After bumpy week on the campaign trail, MeckGOP Convention looms for Team Tillis

Last week was maybe the roughest PR week yet for the Tillis Campaign in the run-up to the May 6th primary for the US Senate race.  How well he bounces back will be interesting to watch.  Here are the highlights of what went down:
  • Wednesday, the Harris Campaign released results of an internal push poll.  The "poll" shows that when "character" questions are raised about Thom Tillis, he falls from 1st place to 3rd behind Harris and Greg Brannon.  Regardless of the source, or the probable flaws in the sampling technique of a campaign's internal poll, or the hypocrisy of using unethical push polling to question another candidate's character, these results do show that raising these questions does very negatively impact the results for the Speaker.
  • Thursday saw the rise of a story about Thom Tillis's college education history.  The story was broken by TalkingPointsMemo website.  It pointed out multiple occasions both on websites and in interviews where the Speaker's college credentials were incorrectly stated as being from University of Maryland at College Park (the flagship of the Maryland system) rather than University of Maryland University College (a primarily online college).  The Tillis campaign brushed this off as a simple mistake (and it very well may be), but it plays right into the vein of  questioning that the Harris poll was attacking.
  • Finally, on Friday Thom Tillis's old opponent for the NC98 legislative seat - John Rhodes - unloaded a barrage of ethical questions about the Speaker from Cornelius Town Hall.  Tillis supporters dismiss this as nothing but sour grapes by an old political foe, but again it plays right into Harris's argument. 
Obviously a rough week no campaign wants to repeat.

Against this backdrop, Mecklenburg Republicans head to their County Convention this coming Saturday.  At last year's convention, delegates unanimously passed a resolution against HOT Lanes - one of the Speaker's signature "achievements".  See MeckGOP Raises the Political Stakes for HOT Lanes Supporters for the details on the events a year ago.  Somewhat ironically, HOT Lanes are once again in the local news as the final proposals for the project are scheduled to be submitted at the end of this month.  How this issue plays out at this year's MeckGOP convention will be fun to watch   as candidates use their opposition to the plan as something to distinguish themselves or have to defend against their support for it.

Then there will, maybe, probably not be the straw poll. (See update below)

Greg Brannon and Mark Harris have each racked up wins in straw polls at these conventions across the state.  Speaker Tillis won big recently in a straw poll in Lincoln County but did less well in a closer victory at the Iredell County GOP Convention.

Straw polls often don't mean much.  They are made up only of strong partisans and activists.  They aren't representative of the whole political party - much less the general electorate.  Their main value is in the crowing that can be done by the victor.  However, the importance of Mecklenburg's might be different.  Mecklenburg County has the second largest number of Republicans in the state.  (Wake has the most.)  Mecklenburg is also home to two of the top candidates - Mark Harris and Thom Tillis.  How Mecklenburg goes could very well determine the outcome of this primary.  Reading the tea leaves on any data point - even one like a straw poll - could provide some important insights.

For Thom Tillis there's no real upside to a MeckGOP straw poll - only downside risk.  If Tillis wins big, the other candidates can brush it off as 'expected' in the Speaker's home county.  However, if Tillis does not win big, that will be trumpeted by his opponents as a real sign of vulnerability.  With Mark Harris also calling Mecklenburg home, he should do well.  Greg Brannon has a strong following among the local Tea Party crowd - a group that goes to conventions and votes.

There was a real effort last year by those running the convention to minimize the impact of the unanimous vote against the HOT Lanes the Speaker supports.  It wouldn't be surprising to see similar efforts around a straw poll this Saturday. 

The best outcome for the Speaker is to not even have one.

Bonus Observation: After doubling down on the "character" line of attack this week, it seems safe to say the Harris Campaign is in it to win it.  This should dispel the notion that he's nothing but a stalking horse for Thom Tillis. See Tillis accuses Harris of 'going negative' and Harris fires back.

Update: Word has been received that there likely will not be a straw poll at tomorrow's convention.  Apparently, Mecklenburg typically does not have them regularly at this event.  Smaller counties regularly have them, but apparently larger ones sometimes do not.  However, GOP straw polls in large counties do have recent precedent during Federal election years.  Wake County, the largest GOP county in the state, had one at their 2012 convention.  The MeckGOP also had one at its 2012 countywide precinct meeting.  In fact, google searches show all of the top five GOP counties having some form of straw poll at some form of party event during 2012.

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