The National Republican Senatorial Committee was in Raleigh, N.C., earlier this week and met with several potential challengers for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan's seat, a sign that national Republicans may not yet be sold on House Speaker Thom Tillis as their party's standardbearer in one of their top races this cycle.
The committee sat down with Tillis, as well as state Senate President Phil Berger and Rep. Renee Ellmers, both of whom are considering bids. Berger confirmed the meeting, telling Raleigh's WRAL radio station: "I'm not any closer to what the decision is, but I'm closer to a decision." Berger added that he'll make an announcement one way or the other by the end of the month.
Ellmers has been similarly non-committal and recently pushed back her June 30 deadline for a decision to this Friday. She hinted in an interview with Roll Call two weeks ago that she could support former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Jim Cain but said that she'd have to discuss the race with him first.
Tillis, meanwhile, has been in the race for over a month, and he's doing everything a serious Senate candidate should do: fundraising aggressively and hiring staff. Tillis raised close to $300,000 in the second quarter of the year, following his May 30th announcement, consultant Phil Shumaker said, and will report about $250,000 on hand. "That's about ten days worth of work," Shumaker said.
Tillis has held a few fundraisers in the state already and his supporters have formed a super PAC supporting his candidacy. He has also brought on big-name consultants like OnMessage Inc.'s Brad Todd and Public Opinion Strategies' Glen Bolger.
Asked about the impression that the NRSC is seeking an alternative to Tillis, Shumaker said, "That was clearly not the indication given to us."
But Tillis has been plagued by bad press on the local and national level, and that may be giving national Republicans some pause. Tillis has been repeatedly criticized for raising money for his Senate campaign from groups lobbying the state House, which would be illegal if he were running a state, and not a federal, campaign. And though Tillis has generally sidestepped social issues, he'll soon have to take a stance on a highly controversial abortion bill recently passed by the state Senate. Deciding whether to support the bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, opens him up to cross-pressures on the issue of abortion rights. That bill and the growing protests of the Republican legislative agenda outside the state Capitol have gotten coverage not only across North Carolina but also across the country. The abortion bill and Capitol protests are also an issue for Berger, who championed the abortion legislation in the state Senate.
The NRSC's recruiting trip was first reported by the Raleigh News & Observer.