Republican Establishment Sweeps Tea Party in First Round of Primaries

American Crossroads plays pivotal role in locking up nomination for Thom Tillis in North Carolina.

Thom Tillis (R) North Carolina during an interview at Roll Call in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Josh Kraushaar
May 6, 2014, 6:50 p.m.

North Car­o­lina House Speak­er Thom Tillis won the Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate nom­in­a­tion in the Tar Heel State on Tues­day even­ing, com­fort­ably sur­pass­ing the 40 per­cent threshold to win the nom­in­a­tion. His vic­tory rat­i­fies the ag­gress­ive strategy ad­op­ted by es­tab­lish­ment-ori­ented out­side groups, led by Amer­ic­an Cross­roads, to spend mil­lions on be­half of favored can­did­ates and at­tack their rivals when ne­ces­sary.

North Car­o­lina was the open­ing battle­ground in the fight between the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s two main fac­tions, and it’s a sign the es­tab­lish­ment’s no-holds-barred strategy is pay­ing off. Amer­ic­an Cross­roads spent $1.6 mil­lion on be­half of Tillis, sig­ni­fic­antly more than the re­sources of Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers Greg Bran­non and Mark Har­ris. They aired three ads, which each touted Tillis’s con­ser­vat­ive re­cord and re­but­ted Demo­crat­ic at­tacks against him.

The goal was simple: In­crease Tillis’s low name iden­ti­fic­a­tion, know­ing his op­pon­ents wouldn’t have the re­sources to fight back. In Janu­ary, the group com­mis­sioned a sur­vey from vet­er­an GOP poll­ster Jan van Lo­huizen show­ing Tillis only tal­ly­ing 16 per­cent in the crowded field, with 60 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an voters un­sure of their choice. Just over one-quarter of North Car­o­lina GOP voters were fa­mil­i­ar with Tillis. But in the middle of their ad­vert­ising blitz in late April, an­oth­er poll com­mis­sioned by Cross­roads and con­duc­ted by van Lo­huizen found Tillis’s name iden­ti­fic­a­tion had shot up to 66 per­cent, with him tal­ly­ing 38 per­cent of the primary vote. That same poll showed only about one-third of voters fa­mil­i­ar with Bran­non and Har­ris.

Their strategy was two­fold: Spend early to avoid a fin­an­cially costly run­off that could wound Tillis for the gen­er­al elec­tion and be­gin to make the case against em­battled Demo­crat­ic Sen. Kay Hagan. It worked, with Tillis win­ning well over 40 per­cent across the board, in most North Car­o­lina counties.

“The stakes were pretty high for us to get him there,” Amer­ic­an Cross­roads Polit­ic­al Dir­ect­or Carl Forti said. “We may have had to spend sig­ni­fic­antly more to get [Tillis] through a run­off, and that’s money that’s not go­ing to oth­er im­port­ant races.” 

The Karl Rove-aligned su­per PAC took heat last year from con­ser­vat­ives for an­noun­cing the form­a­tion of the Con­ser­vat­ive Vic­tory Pro­ject, an ef­fort de­signed to pre­vent less-elect­able can­did­ates from win­ning primar­ies. But with con­sid­er­ably less fan­fare, the group achieved the same res­ults by em­ploy­ing a sim­il­ar strategy to boost Tillis. Cross­roads of­fi­cials said that it’s likely they will get in­volved in ad­di­tion­al primar­ies, giv­en the suc­cess­ful out­come in North Car­o­lina.

Mean­while, the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, which spent over $1 mil­lion in ads back­ing Tillis, also saw two oth­er en­dorsed can­did­ates pre­vail in con­tested primar­ies — Rep. Dav­id Joyce in Ohio and North Car­o­lina con­gres­sion­al can­did­ate Dav­id Rouzer. The pro-busi­ness lobby at­tacked Joyce and Rouzer’s con­ser­vat­ive primary chal­lengers as sleazy “tri­al law­yers” in ads, be­fore they could catch any mo­mentum. House Speak­er John Boehner also com­fort­ably pre­vailed in his primary, win­ning 69 per­cent of the vote.

The es­tab­lish­ment is also gain­ing mo­mentum in the run-up to the next wave of con­gres­sion­al primar­ies in Neb­raska (May 13); Geor­gia, Idaho, and Ken­tucky (May 20); and Iowa and Mis­sis­sippi (June 3). Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell is ex­pec­ted to eas­ily pre­vail against tea-party chal­lenger Matt Bev­in, des­pite out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups’ in­volve­ment in sup­port of Bev­in. In a sign of early ex­uber­ance, Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­man Ja­han Wil­cox tweeted “next stop is that fraud Matt Bev­in!” after the As­so­ci­ated Press called the race for Tillis.

Mean­while, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho is now favored to fend off a chal­lenge from Club for Growth-backed at­tor­ney Bry­an Smith. Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, the can­did­ate favored by Iowa GOP Gov. Terry Bran­stad, is win­ning sup­port from es­tab­lish­ment al­lies (Mitt Rom­ney) and tea-party fa­vor­ites (Sarah Pal­in) alike. In Geor­gia, the weak­est Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates are fad­ing in the primary, mak­ing it more likely Re­pub­lic­ans will nom­in­ate a strong op­pon­ent against Demo­crat Michelle Nunn.

The es­tab­lish­ment’s biggest test will come in Mis­sis­sippi, where Sen. Thad Co­chran is re­ly­ing on al­lies aligned with former Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Haley Bar­bour to fend off a ser­i­ous chal­lenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is sup­por­ted by lead­ing out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups.

What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC Has Clinton Up 5 Points
12 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 49%-44% in a new CNN/ORC poll out Monday afternoon. But it's Gary Johnson's performance, or lack thereof, that's the real story. Johnson, who had cleared 10% in some surveys earlier this fall, as he made a bid to qualify for the debates, is down to 3% support. He must hit 5% nationwide for the Libertarian Party to qualify for some federal matching funds in future elections.

McCarthy, Pelosi Team Up on National Guard Bonuses
14 hours ago

The majority and minority leader of the House are both saying "California's veterans are not to blame for being mistakenly overpaid, after a Los Angeles Times story revealed that officials are trying to claw back millions in bonuses from California National Guardsmen. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the efforts to recoup the money 'disgraceful,' and asked for the Department of Defense to waive the repayments soldiers would be forced to make if they inappropriately received re-enlistment bonuses for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she's looking for a "legislative fix" in the lame-duck session.

IBD/TIPP Poll Shows a Dead Heat
17 hours ago

A new Investor’s Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each earning 41% support. On the one hand, the poll has been skewing in Trump's favor this year, relative to other polls. But on the other, data guru Nate Silver called the IBD/TIPP poll the most accurate in 2012.

Clinton Leads by 12 in ABC Tracking Poll
22 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 12 percentage points among likely voters, 50 to 38 percent, in a new ABC News tracking poll, "her highest support and his lowest to date in ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls. Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, Jill Stein 2 percent. Clinton led by only four points in the last ABC/Post poll on Oct. 13.

Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
3 days ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.