#NCSEN: Wrong on the money

wrongCarter Wrenn — Richard Morgan’s pre-weight loss doppelganger — has surfaced like Captain Ahab’s white whale to do a wee bit of the GOP establishment’s dirty work in a post on his low-traffic, lightly-read web site: 

The newspaper reporter asked if North Carolina’s Senate Primary was going to be the next litmus test of the Tea Party’s political muscle – and as fast as he could Greg Brannon’s campaign spokesman said ‘Yes’ then added the Primary was just like Senator Rand Paul’s election in Kentucky in 2010 and Senator Ted Cruz’s election in Texas in 2012.

“In those races, he said, you had a candidate that was handpicked and heavily supported by the DC establishment up against a Tea Party candidate supported by the grassroots. In both instances the grassroots candidate won big.”
Now, of course, you can’t fault Greg Brannon’s spokesman for wanting to get a step ahead of Thom Tillis – but what landed in the newspaper was only part of the story.
It’s true Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both won.
But on the way to winning they also raised a lot of money. Rand Paul with the help of his father’s supporters across the country. And Ted Cruz with the help of Senator Jim DeMint, who all but adopted him.
Here in North Carolina, so far, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, who’re challenging Thom Tillis, have both been noticeably short of cash.
And that’s the big fact in the Senate race: No one, or at best only a handful of voters,  knows Greg Brannon. They don’t know he’s the next Ted Cruz. And he hasn’t had the money to change that. So the real fight in the Republican Primary isn’t between the Establishment and the Tea Party – it’s between Greg Bannon and his empty cash box.
Things must be slower for Carter than I thought.  It’s quite a shift to go from touting Jesse Helms to hanging with Gary Pearce and carrying the GOP establishment’s water.  This man is craving relevance.
First off, let’s take Carter’s “empty cash box” statement.  Anyone who browses over to www.fec.gov and does a simple search can determine THAT is false.  Strike one, big boy.
On one hand, Carter has a point about the fallacy of comparing Kentucky and Texas to North Carolina.  You’re talking about three VERY different states there.  On the other hand, there are about as many similarities between this year’s Senate race and the previous ones in Kentucky and Texas.
Let’s take Texas first.   There were five Republicans seeking the GOP nod.  Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was supposed to wipe the floor in the GOP primary for US Senate — kinda like what everyone is saying about Thom Tillis.  By May 2012, the lieutenant governor — backed by a personal fortune and the support of the entire GOP establishment —  had raised $18,414,254.    Ted Cruz, by that time, had raised $5,834,366.
The latest — albeit dubious — poll from PPP shows Tillis leading the GOP field by 8 points, while 44 percent of voters remain undecided.  Greg Brannon is second with 11 percent. 
By May 2012, Dewhurst was leading the Texas GOP field in all of the polls.  Nine points was the closest margin between Dewhurst and second-place Cruz.   One poll had Dewhurst with 57 percent, Cruz in second at 16 percent.   With the help of national Tea Party and conservative sources, Cruz began to pull even and be more competitive with Dewhurst in fundraising during the campaign’s fourth quarter. 
Let’s look at Kentucky.  Eye doctor Rand Paul was taking on Trey Greyson, the sitting Secretary of State — who had all of the political and financial support of the GOP establishment in DC and Kentucky.  Greyson — like Dewhurst in Texas — was supposed to wipe the floor in the primary.  Just like they’re saying about Thom Tillis this year. 
In late 2009, polls showed Paul lagging a short distance behind Greyson.  In 2010, Greyson was leading Paul in fundraising.  But Paul pulled ahead thanks to some successful online money-bombs spearheaded by some of his father’s political supporters.
Let’s remember — in 2008 — Elizabeth Dole outraised Kay Hagan by $2 million.  (How’d that one turn out?) 
Now — in 2014 — we’ve got some rather startling polling info that ought to have certain establishment orifices puckering up.  Public Policy Polling found that Thom Tillis had the following ratings: 15 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable, 57 percent not sure.   That’s AFTER airing $300,000 worth of TV commercials touting one of the top elected officials in North Carolina state government.
Let’s look at what PPP found for Greg Brannon — 9 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable, and 72 percent not sure.  Greg Brannon — with his alleged “empty cash box” has a better unfavorable rating than Tillis, and is in the same ballpark with Tillis on “not sure.”  THAT is comparing one of the top three guys in state government — who can fart and get news coverage —  to a little ol’ OB-GYN in Cary.
I covered the 1996 race between then-congressman David Funderburk (R) and Bob Etheridge.  Funderburk had much bigger overall fundraising numbers than Etheridge.  But if you stripped away the PAC dollars and looked solely at money from people who could actually vote on these two — Etheridge was blowing Funderburk away.  We all know how that one turned out.
Yes — Thom Tillis is posting much bigger overall numbers than the rest of the field.  But if you look at the itemized contributions, you see mostly big dollars from people (1) with interests before the legislature, or (2) living out of state.   A lot like David Funderburk’s 1996 financial reports.  Again, how did that one turn out? 
Paul and Cruz came on strong late in their respective elections.  We have just now entered the crunch time in the North Carolina race.  Very reliable sources inform me that forces close to DeMint, Cruz, and Paul have been gearing up on Brannon’s behalf.  Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have already gone public with their support of Tillis.  So has a good chunk of the NCGOP establishment.  (Though, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and senate president pro tem Phil Berger are conspicuously quiet.) 
It’s ridiculous to go ahead and crown Tillis senator.  There is a lot of action yet to occur.  (Brannon opened four campaign offices this week and started polling statewide.)  
I see Tillis and Brannon rising above the rest of the GOP field.  It will be a blockbuster slugfest along the lines of Cruz v. Dewhurst and Paul v. Grayson.  Lieutenant Governor.  Secretary of State.  Speaker of the House.   Whether it ends the same way remains to be seen.