North Carolina Senate Republican Primary


The race for the right to take on vulnerable Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan has been consistently close since polling began in 2013. Eight candidates have thrown their hats into the ring with varying degrees of success. The rules in North Carolina mandate that the primary winner receive at lest 40% of the vote in the May 6, 2014 election to avoid a run-off scheduled for July 15, 2014.

The current poll leader is Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in North Carolina. As Republicans hold the Governorship and a filibuster over-riding majority in the assembly, Tillis wields a great deal of power. He oversaw major tax reform, passed voter ID laws, and strengthened the North Carolina gay marriage ban. However, the Tea Party is skeptical of Tillis, and their support of Greg Branson may ultimately doom Tillis if he cannot reach 40% on May 6.

Greg Brannon is the quintessential Tea Party candidate. A newcomer to the political arena, he boasts support from Tea Party Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee. Brannon opens his web page with Glen Beck asking his viewers “Have you found your Greg Brannon”?  While carrying very socially conservative views, Brannon has tapped into the anti-establishment sentiment and solidified himself as Thom Tillis’ main competition. Brannon has consistently polled second to Tillis, but often outperforms him by a point or two in head-to-head polls the Democratic incumbent, Kay Hagan.

Brannon’s position is likely weakened by the presence of Mark Harris, the pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church. While Brannon’s social conservatism may get him into trouble during the general election, it is ironic that Harris – carrying Mike Huckabee’s and the Duggar family’s endorsement and fundraising help – will be drawing significant votes from Brannon. Harris has some experience organizing in North Carolina as he was instrumental in passing the 2012 North Carolina Marriage Protection Amendment.

Harris and Heather Grant are currently tied for third place with both candidates hoping to pass Brannon and have a chance to face Tillis head-to-head in the July 15 run-off. Grant, a former Army nurse, has done a decent of job of raising her profile and staying competitive despite not having any prior political experience. Her challenge will be to keep up with the organization of fundraising operations of Tillis, Brannon, and Harris.

Despite already having four candidates in the primary who are at least averaging near double digits, North Carolinians will have four more candidates to choose from as Ted Alexander, Alex Bradshaw, Edward Kryn, and James Snyder Jr. round out the field. Alexander and Bradshaw both polled over five percent in a recent PPP poll. Of these four, Alexander appears to be the likeliest dark horse.

While the RNC would like to see Tillis win 40% of the primary and avoid a run-off, this prospect seems doubtful given the eight candidates in the race. A Tillis-Brannon  contest would likely leave both candidates badly bloodied as the Tea Party would ratchet up attacks on Tillis and the GOP establishment would try to turn Brannon into Todd Akin. Both men also have low-grade ethical vulnerabilities that could be exacerbated in a nasty primary.

Campaign videos/ads

Social Media

Facebook (likes)

1. Greg Brannon – 71,772
2. Thom Tillis – 57,299
3. Mark Harris – 7,875
4. Heather Grant – 1,448
5. Ted Alexander – 1,348
6. Edward Kryn – 120
7. Alex Bradshaw – 21
8. Jim Snyder – Unknown

Twitter (followers)

1. Heather Grant – 9,955
2. Thom Tillis – 9,747
3. Greg Brannon – 4,169
4. Mark Harris – 2,276
5. Ted Alexander 865
6. Edward Kryn -32
7. Alex Bradshaw – 1
8. Jim Snyder – Unknown


NC Senate 1st quarter fundraising totals


PPP – Tillis 18, Brannon 15, Harris 11, Grant 7, Alexander 6, Bradshaw 5, Snyder 2, Kryn 1
Survey USA – Tillis 23, Brannon 15, Harris 11, Grant 6, Alexander 6, Snyder 3, Kryn 2, Bradshaw 1

News & Commentary

Voter turnout will be key in May 6 primary
Harris still struggling despite recent push
Tillis leads in polls, but falls far short of 40%
Brannon endorsed by Freedom Works

Republicans need to carefully hone Obamacare message

The first round of the Obamacare fight is over and Republicans have won a resounding victory. The unpopular law gave the GOP the House of Representatives in 2010 and may give them the other half of Congress in 2014. Despite a massive public relations campaign, the Affordable Care Act still sits below 40% in the Real Clear Politics average and is a drag on the President and Democrats across the country.

Since the Affordable Care Act’s official implementation in October of 2013, Republicans have played the short game – and it worked well for them. When the website crashed throughout its first three months they rightfully made political hay out of it. However, given the government’s resources it was inevitable that the site would be up and running at some point. When it did, Democrats crowed and the GOP changed attacks.

Over the past six months Republicans have mocked the low enrollment rates – which again makes good political sense – but this line of attack is also finite. With a mandate in place and generous government subsidies available, people were inevitably going to sign up. They allowed the administration to drop their expectations to a ridiculously low six million enrollments, then take credit when roughly seven million signed up to either avoid paying the penalty or take advantage of the subsidies (yes, we have no idea how many of those seven million have paid).

Now that the law is in place, its fate will be determined on its merits. The GOP really needs to understand this. Is Obamacare causing premiums to increase? Are hospitals not accepting Obamacare patients? Will more Americans lose insurance when the business mandate kicks in? Are the deductibles too high? Will those who see pay increases from 2013 to 2014 experience shock when the government retroactively takes back their subsidies in 2015? Will there be a shortage of primary care physicians?

For Republicans, this should be about connecting with people. They cannot frame the debated in ideological terms. Democrats are not willing to pay higher premiums for national health care and Republicans are not interested in sacrificing their family’s insurance to achieve an ideological victory. The Republican message needs to revolve around Obamacare’s negative affect on the American public because Democrats will certainly be touting its positive affects for Americans – and yes, the law will help many Americans. Ultimately, the American public will make their decision based on whether they believe the law is generally helping or hurting them.

Democrats typically do better on the poll question “who cares more about people like you” than Republicans. They perform better not because they actually care more, but because they focus on how their policies will positively affect the everyday lives of voters. Conservatives also believe their policies will better the lives of average Americans, but too often get caught up in philosophical discussions about the moral superiority of their principles. The American public is pragmatic. They’ll side with whoever can help them most – or hurt them least. If Republicans forget this, Democrats may end up winning the next and perhaps final round in the political fight over Obamacare.



Unpopular Republicans may buoy Kay Hagan to victory in North Carolina

Looking at the vulnerable red state Democratic incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana,  and North Carolina, it would appear that North Carolina’s Kay Hagan should be the most vulnerable. Hagan, a Florida native, won her first term as a Senator in 2008, where she received significant assistance from the Obama campaign and outside groups.

Hagan was a surprise candidate in 2008, taking on Elizabeth Dole from the North Carolina State Assembly, as a rather undistinguished state senator. Unlike other Southern Democrats, Hagan has not moved significantly to the right to hold conservative voters. Hagan is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, voted for Obamacare, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (The Stimulus), and got an “F” from the National Rifle Association. Hagan has gone against her party on immigration and tobacco issues, but is generally a reliable vote.

Unlike Mary Landrieu in Lousiana and Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Hagan does not have a history of in-state political goodwill to fall back on. Hagan also differs from Mark Begich in Alaska who has honed his brand of Democratic politics to mirror the states’ libertarian tilt.

While all four Democratic incumbent are in trouble, Hagan has shown the most signs of life. Through the summer and fall of 2013 she even led her potential challengers by double digits. Now, Hagan is still in trouble and may very well lose, but the most recent poll from the Hickman Group shows her up by five points over Republican front-runner Thom Tillis, while other polls show them running neck-and-neck.

While Hagan’s approval rating sits in the low 40s, every potential Republican candidate is suffering major favorability problems. Not a single GOP candidate even comes close to a positive favorable/unfavorable number, with the primary front-runner performing the worst. It’s rare for relatively unknown candidates to be viewed so poorly.

Ted Alexander 8/19
Alex Bradshaw 7/19
Greg Brannon 10/19
Heather Grant 10/17
Mark Harris 11/15
Edward Kryn 6/17
Jim Snyder 8/17
Tom Tillis 18/37

The GOP primary process in North Carolina provides another advantage for Hagan. If no candidates receives 40% of the primary vote, the top two candidates will move to a run-off, which will likely turn into a nasty Tea Party (Brannon) against establishment (Tillis) fight. The run-off election won’t be held until July 15, 2014 allowing the winning candidate to get bruised further before taking on Hagan directly.

The North Carolina seat is there for the GOP’s taking, but it also represents the biggest opportunity for Republicans to lose a winnable seat. Incumbents are tough to beat because they are usually better organized and better funded than their opponents. Hagan raised over seven million dollars in 2013 compared to one million for Tillis and just over $250,00 for Brannon. If the GOP fails to select their candidate on May 6, and does not coalesce around him or her, they may very well see their opportunity in North Carolina slip away.

California’s Thirty-first Congressional District


Current Representative Gary Miller (RRancho Cucamonga)
Ethnicity 29.7% White, 11.0% Black, 7.2% Asian, 49.4% Hispanic, 2.7[1]% other
Cook PVI D+5

2012 Presidential Election: Obama 57, Romney 41

2008 Presidential Election: Obama 57, Romney 41

California’s thirty-first Congressional District sits in the area know as the Inland Empire. The region now comprising CA-31 once served as a refuge for middle class families fleeing the high priced real estate and general urban decay of Los Angeles.

San Berndardino and Ranch Cucamonga are the two largest cities and anchor the popular base. Since 1980 the population has increased by over 250% going from 1.6 million to 4.2 million.

The district’s economy has been faltering as the real estate bubble and public employee salaries and pensions have weighed down the large population areas. San Bernardino declared bankruptcy in 2012.

Politically, CA-31 is Democratic territory. President Obama won the district by 16 points in 2008 and 2012. Republican incumbent, Gary Miller, was fortunate to win in 2012. Miller was redistricted out of the 42nd district and chose to run in the 31st rather than staying in the 42nd and running against another incumbent Republican.

During California’s blanket primary system, poor Democratic turnout allowed two Republicans (Miller and former California Senate minority leader Bob Dutton) to face-off on Election Day guaranteeing a Republican win. However, seeing the leftward lean of the district, Miller decided to end his sixteen year career rather than face a grueling re-election campaign every two years.

Democrats already have three very viable candidates, in the race. Pete Aguilar, the top performing Democrat in 2012, is the choice of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). He will face off against fellow Democrats Joe Baca and Eloise Gomez Reyes. Baca and Reyes have joined Aguilar in boasting six figure fundraiser totals.

The Republican candidate is Lesli Gooch, an aide to Gary Miller. Given the caliber of Democratic opponents, Gooch will be fortunate to finish second in the primary and make it to the general election.

Likely Democratic pickup

Updated Senate Rankings

Harry ReidMcConnell,Mitch-012309-18422-jf 0024

Races most likely to change parties. Color denotes current party.
1. Montana (75%) Polls, candidate, environment, and terrain favor GOP.
2. West Virginia (75%) Polls, candidate, environment, and terrain favor GOP.
3. South Dakota (70%) Polls, environment, and terrain favor GOP.
4. Louisiana (50%) Terrain and environment favor GOP. Solid Democratic incumbent.
5. Arkansas (50%) Terrain and environment favor GOP. Solid Democratic incumbent.
6. North Carolina (50%) Terrain and environment slightly favor GOP. Weak GOP field.
7. Alaska (50%) Terrain and environment favor GOP. Strong Democratic incumbent.
8. Michigan (45%) Terrain favors Democrats. Environment favors Republicans.
9. Colorado (45%) Even terrain. Environment favors GOP. Slight incumbent advantage.
10. Georgia (25%) Terrain and environment favor GOP. Solid Democratic candidate.
11. Kentucky (25%) Terrain and environment favor GOP. Vulnerable GOP incumbent.
12. New Hampshire (25%) Terrain and candidate favors Democrats. 
13. Iowa (25%) Terrain and candidates favors Democrats.
14. Minnesota (20%) Terrain and candidates favors Democrats.
15. Virginia (15%) Terrain and candidates favors Democrats.

Republicans’ favorite Republican is….Mitt Romney?

Mitt RomneyAn interesting cross-tab is buried in the PPP poll that shows Hillary Clinton leading all GOP contenders. In terms of favorability, none of the candidates fair well. Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Elizabeth Warren lead the group simply by breaking even (Clinton 47/47, Huckabee 38/38, Warren 26/26). Ted Cruz has the highest unfavorable number with a net of (-14).

The most surprising problem that GOP candidates face is their inability to consolidate fellow Republicans. Ted Cruz and Christie are stuck in the low 40s among Republicans. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul just manage to cross the 50% threshold in their own party, while Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush score in the high 50s.

The one Republican polled who stands head and shoulder above the rest is the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Sixty-two percent of Republicans view Mitt Romney favorably while only 11% view him negatively for a net positive of 51%. This number is considerably higher than Jeb Bush’s +42 and stands in stark contrast to Ted Cruz’s +23 and Chris Christie’s +8 (Christie’s GOP problems are a topic for another day).

The party’s continued post-election embrace of Romney is an example of a party in flux looking for a strong leader to emerge. They thought they had one in the wings in Christie, but he is certainly not filling that role now – and may never. While Romney is unlikely to run for President in 2016, he may bundle his party support and his vibrant fundraising network to impact the 2016 GOP nominating process.


Hickman Polls confirm what we already know

Occasionally, a group of polls comes out that grabs national attention across mainstream media and partisan media lines. This past week, the Senate polls conducted by Democratic polling firm Hickman Analytics, were discussed on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Morning Joe, and garnered online pieces from the Washington Post and Charlie Cook (among many others). The consensus being that Senate Democrats are in trouble.

Despite Cook’s note that Hickman is a reputable pollster, Hickman’s client was the Consumer Energy Alliance, a group that is urging the passing of the Keystone Pipeline. The polls that PPP(D) conducts for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a group opposing the Keystone Pipeline, tend to trend more Democratic than their usual polls so readers should view the Hickman polls (and any poll conducted on behalf of a group with a clear interest) skeptically.

The odd thing about the Hickman surveys and the media attention they received is that there really isn’t any news to report. In Arkansas, they have Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton in a dead heat. Pryor has a very small lead among likely voters when third party candidates are listed, Cotton has a very small lead among definite voters when third party candidates are named. Without third party candidates, Cotton and Prior are tied among likely voters, and Cotton leads by nine among definite voters. The fact that Prior and Cotton are deadlocked is not exactly news.

Hickman has similar findings in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Colorado. Republican Bill Cassidy appears stronger against Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu than he has in other surveys, while Kay Hagan leads by a four point margin among likely voters in North Carolina, which is the best number she has seen in months. The Colorado poll was taken before Ken Buck and Cory Gardner switched positions. Buck, who was thought to be the weaker candidate, trailed Democratic incumbent Mark Udall by four points among likely voters (in a very heavy Republican sample.)

The bottom line from the Hickman Analytics poll is that the four Democratic incumbents surveyed are in danger of losing their seats. The real news will come when either the challengers in these state start to establish solid leads or races like Iowa, Minnesota, and Virginia begin to close.