Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Thom TIllis's "Conservative" Problem

I recently received an interesting email blast from a former lower-level MeckGOP official in North Mecklenburg asking a former high ranking MeckGOP official for evidence of Speaker Thom Tillis's conservative credentials.  This evidence was being sought to assuage the concerns of a Triad area friend regarding Speaker Tillis's conservative bona fides to be the NCGOP nominee to take on Kay Hagan in the looming US Senate contest.
You see, this Triad area voter had concerns about Speaker Tillis.  The Speaker had not appeared at a recent candidate forum put on by a party organization.  There were also concerns about whether or not his conservative convictions were strong enough.  Would he just go-along to get along if he makes it to Washington?  That's what this voter wanted to know. 
The response?  The former high ranking MeckGOP official simply forwarded copy pulled from the Thom Tillis for Senate campaign site.  This was sent with the now standard encouragement that Thom Tillis is the best candidate to take on Kay Hagan this November.
What does this anecdote tell us?  A few things come to mind. 
First, it's not a great sign if establishment party officials have to dig around for evidence to support their candidate and the best they can come up with is copy from a campaign site.  That's not likely to convince an incredulous voter.
Second, it's some hard evidence that the Speaker constantly missing these small forums across the state is something people notice.  It does impact their decision making.  And, it might prove fatal particularly if this contest heads to a run-off. 
Third, when combined with recent polling data, this anecdote is just one more data point that shows the Speaker has a real problem with at least a portion of the conservative NCGOP base. 
Recent polling by Public Policy Polling and Survey USA shows a consistent theme.  In the GOP primary, there seems to be a strong vein of “anybody but Tillis” in the likely electorate.  Even though Thom Tillis enjoys high name recognition among the GOP faithful, raises more money from deep pocketed sources, and possesses the support of the national GOP establishment, he has been unable to break away from the pack in these polls.  
The combined totals for the other candidates double the Speaker’s totals with a large contingent of undecideds still in the mix.  These other candidates regularly campaign to the right of the Speaker, so their combined totals have significance – especially if this contest heads into a run-off.

The Tillis Campaign has been relatively cautious by not aggressively attacking his primary opponents.  He'll need their supporters if he is ultimately the GOP candidate.  However, there is another tidbit in these polls that shows winning over some of these folks may be an uphill climb no matter what.

Most of these polls also asked about head to head match ups against Kay Hagan. In all of them that did, there is a strong "anybody but Hagan" block - averaging around 40% to 45% of the general election population.  However, among the leading GOP candidates, Thom Tillis is the one who more often trails Hagan in head to head match ups. (Hagan bests Tillis in 2 of the 3 polls) In the most recent PPP poll he is the only Republican from the entire GOP field trailing Hagan.  All of these are within the margin of error, but that consistency in trailing Hagan may indicate that the Speaker is not carrying all of the "anybody but Hagan" block.

Finally, there is evidence that all of this is getting to the establishment, and they are beginning to react.  The most obvious example is Governor McCrory's recent endorsement/non-endorsement of the Speaker to the Washington Post.  Governor McCrory called Tillis the "most viable" Republican to take on Hagan.  (Note: McCrory splits hairs and doesn't call this an endorsement.  Readers can decide for themselves.)  The poll numbers say otherwise, and the Governor is certainly entitled to his opinion like everyone else.  However, there are two problems with this endorsement.

What happens if the Speaker is ultimately not the GOP candidate?  How does the Governor believably support the Republican nominee when he's on record saying someone else was the "most viable"?  McCrory's endorsement actually hurts the general election GOP candidate if the nominee is not Tillis.  The Hagan campaign will have a field day with that.

Also, it's questionable how much a McCrory endorsement helps Tillis with the most conservative in the GOP base for the primary.  Many conservatives have the same problems with the Governor that they have with the Speaker.

Add to that, comments like the recent one from NC Senator Bob Rucho (R-Meck) saying the establishment money will only follow Tillis in the general and not the other GOP hopefuls, and you might begin to think the establishment only cares about getting their guy elected. Sabotaging other GOP candidates in the general is an acceptable price to pay in the attempt to win the primary. 

That's something to remember the next time you hear demands for party unity above all else.

Buckle up!  The next month of this campaign could get bumpy.

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