Well. It looks like all of our “speculation” and “drive-by reporting” is starting to pan out. After our reporting came out, the AP confirmed that — as we said — (1) Harris is being advised by longtime Robin Hayes advisor Tom Perdue and that (2) a formal campaign announcement will be made on October 2.
Today, McClatchy confirms that Robin Hayes HIMSELF will be chairing the Harris For Senate campaign. McClatchy says Harris “hopes to build on a base of social conservatives like those who helped pass last year’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.” Choosing Robin Hayes, a long-time member of The Ripon Society, to head up your campaign is an unusual strategy for accomplishing that goal.
The Ripon Society is a group of Republicans commonly referred to in the grassroots as “country club” or “Rockefeller Republicans.” This group of progressive Republicans was organized to fight back against conservative and religious right influence in the GOP. It fought Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980.
Everybody remembers Hayes’s famous rant at the 2012 Republican National Convention – aggressively reminding North Carolina delegates that a good Republican’s job is to back the party leadership no matter what. As party chairman, Hayes was a good soldier for the establishment in stymieing Tea Party efforts. Under Hayes, the state party staff got caught multiple times meddling in GOP primaries — aiding establishment moderates over Tea Party candidates.
Looking at the evidence, it’s pretty hard to paint Harris as some kind of grassroots crusader. The pastor, himself, may have good intentions. (Though, we are disturbed by reports that he is peddling innuendo questioning fellow candidate Greg Brannon’s commitment to “family values.”) Most experienced — no dog in this fight — campaign hands studying the Harris campaign see it as not being configured for the purpose of winning. I agree. It clearly looks like a vehicle for dividing-and-conquering the conservative, Tea Party-oriented vote.
(Does anyone REALLY believe that Robin Hayes — who set House speaker and US Senate candidate Thom Tillis up with a sweet speaking time slot at the most recent state GOP convention — is actively opposing Tillis? )
The jury is still out on what state Senator Phil Berger will do. Many think he will jump in the race — further muddying the picture. It’s clear that he will sap some support from establishment favorite Tillis. (A lot of the folks I talk to in Raleigh really don’t think Berger will jump into the US Senate primary.)
Heather Grant can’t win. The Mark Harris campaign isn’t designed to win. (It is spending more time attacking Greg Brannon than on building Harris’s name ID or taking down Hagan.) Of the four in the race now, Brannon is the most obvious choice for Tea Party-style conservatives who want to shake up Washington.