The GOP Establishment Has Picked Its Candidate in North Carolina

The pro-business group is making a bet that the North Carolina Republican is the party’s most electable candidate in the fall.

Thom Tillis (R) North Carolina during an interview at Roll Call in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty
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Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty
April 7, 2014, 7:12 p.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — The GOP es­tab­lish­ment is pil­ing on in its sup­port of Thom Tillis.

Two sources con­firm to the Na­tion­al Journ­al that the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce will en­dorse the North Car­o­lina House speak­er, the Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner for his party’s Sen­ate nom­in­a­tion who is fight­ing off an ar­ray of op­pon­ents in a primary. The en­dorse­ment is ex­pec­ted be­fore the state’s May 6 primary.

One source with know­ledge of the situ­ation said the cham­ber also plans to air TV ads on his be­half, a big boost for a can­did­ate who already holds a siz­able fun­drais­ing ad­vant­age over his in­tra-party foes.

The busi­ness group’s back­ing is hardly a shock: The state’s speak­er of the House is seen as the most es­tab­lish­ment-friendly can­did­ate in the North Car­o­lina Re­pub­lic­an field and is gen­er­ally con­sidered the only one cap­able of de­feat­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Kay Hagan in the fall. Tillis has already par­ti­cip­ated in fun­draisers with Karl Rove and GOP Sen­ate Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, and late last month the Rove-backed Amer­ic­an Cross­roads an­nounced it would run ads in his sup­port.

But the tim­ing of the cham­ber’s sup­port of Tillis, com­ing nearly a month be­fore the primary, might sur­prise some, and counts as an­oth­er ex­ample of the Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment try­ing to use its in­flu­ence to bol­ster can­did­ates it con­siders the most vi­able in gen­er­al elec­tions. Al­though eager to avoid un­elect­able can­did­ates like Todd Akin or Christine O’Don­nell, top GOP strategists have been wary of overtly back­ing their favored can­did­ates be­cause of the back­lash it might in­cite among grass­roots con­ser­vat­ives.

So far this year, they have care­fully se­lec­ted sup­port­ing only the can­did­ates they con­sider the safest bets. (Cross­roads, in ad­di­tion to back­ing Tillis, has also run ads on be­half of a Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate in Alaska, Dan Sul­li­van.)

The es­tab­lish­ment’s show of sup­port might be win­ning over some con­ser­vat­ives, too. Tillis said Monday that he had re­ceived the en­dorse­ment of Na­tion­al Right to Life, an ad­vocacy group that op­poses abor­tion rights. 

Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing that Tillis not only wins the Re­pub­lic­an primary but earns at least 40 per­cent of the vote, the threshold can­did­ates must reach to avoid a run­off elec­tion that would cost him both time and money. His op­pon­ents, mind­ful that a run­off is likely their only re­main­ing chance to win the nom­in­a­tion, are step­ping up their cri­ti­cism of Tillis in hopes of keep­ing him be­low 40 per­cent.

North Car­o­lina is con­sidered a prime pickup op­por­tun­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans in the fall and is cent­ral to their plans to re­claim the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. Hagan, however, is sit­ting on a mam­moth war chest: Her cam­paign said Monday that she had raised $2.8 mil­lion in the first fun­drais­ing quarter and had $8.3 mil­lion on hand at the end of March.

Tillis’s cam­paign said Monday that it had raised $1.3 mil­lion in the year’s first quarter.

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