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As Goes North Carolina

So go Republican hopes to take over the Senate.

Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By FRED BARNES
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Tillis has the backing of what’s known by its critics as the Republican establishment. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, National Right to Life, and the super-PAC American Crossroads are backing him. The Chamber and Crossroads are running TV ads. An implicit threat comes with funding by the establishment, that it will dry up if Tillis isn’t the nominee.

Tillis’s strength is the impressive record as speaker he’s running on. In 2012, North Carolina was the best GOP state in the country. Republicans won the governorship and large majorities in the legislature and proceeded to enact a sweeping conservative agenda that included tax and spending cuts, reduced unemployment benefits, and a voter ID law. The tax cuts have been credited with spurring the fastest drop in unemployment in the country—from 10.4 percent in January 2011 to 6.4 percent in March. And the benefit cuts no doubt prompted some of the jobless to prefer work.

But Tillis has personal vulnerabilities that Hagan and Reid have already begun to focus on. The romance scandal is one. Another is his controversial appointment of donors to the University of North Carolina board. Still another is his listing of a degree from the University of Maryland. It was from the university’s distance-learning arm.

Though it’s his first campaign for any elected office, Harris, 48, is a formidable figure. The former president of the state Baptist Federation and pastor of a large Baptist church in Charlotte, he’s a strong speaker and probably the most dynamic of the candidates. “I’m not given to nuance,” he told me. “What’s inside comes out.” Last week, he spent $300,000 to air a cable ad. It may be the most effective ad of the campaign. Harris is the greatest threat to Tillis. Win or lose, he’s become an important figure in North Carolina politics.

Brannon, 53, has issues, not all of them libertarian ones. He’s been endorsed by GOP senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. But a judge recently issued a $250,000 judgment against him for allegedly misleading investors. He’s also been accused of plagiarizing statements used in his campaign.

To win, Democratic consultant Brad Crone says, Republicans will have to get over their differences. “At the end of the day, the social conservatives and the Tea Party folks are going to have to realize they’ve got to pivot back to a candidate who can win on a statewide basis.” That’s Tillis.

Then independents—the “unaffiliated”—will pick the next senator. They dislike all politicians, says political sage Carter Wrenn, “but they dislike Obama the most.” Since he’s increasingly unpopular in North Carolina, “that makes it look like it might break for Republicans.” Thus creating a Republican Senate.

Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.

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