GOP Senate candidates vie for support as Tillis launches second TV ad

jfrank@newsobserver.com kreilly@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2014 

Two leading Republican candidates for U.S. Senate jockeyed for an advantage Thursday, touting TV ads and endorsements in moves that illustrated their different approaches to the campaign.

Republican Thom Tillis launched a $1 million television advertising campaign to run through the May 6 primary. It is Tillis’ second ad in the campaign.

It showcases his personal story and avoids the direct attacks on Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and President Barack Obama that were a part of his first TV ad earlier this year. But as he highlights his humble start delivering newspapers and rise to partner at IBM, Tillis again refrains from mentioning his political resume as a four-term state lawmaker and House speaker.

“My story is not special,” he says in the spot. “In America it happens all the time. But the train wreck in Washington puts it all at risk.”

Tillis is the only candidate in the eight-way GOP primary running TV ads, a move that emphasizes his campaign’s sizeable financial advantage and ability to reach a broader audience.

Rival Greg Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, is relying on conservative activists and tea party energy to drive his campaign. It received a boost with the endorsement of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a leading tea party figure, on Thursday.

“I think this will be a primary in which ... conservative credentials will be on the line,” Lee said in an phone interview, “and a primary in which there will be a heavy emphasis on Obamacare and Mr. Brannon’s background, his familiarity with Obamacare and why it’s hurting people, will be a real asset to him.

“I think his credentials as a constitutional conservative focused on conservative reform will set him apart,” he added.

Brannon’s campaign said he was the first candidate in the nation backed by Lee and Paul.

“I’m eager to join him in the effort to repeal Obamacare, advance a conservative reform agenda, and restore constitutionally limited government to the U.S. Senate,” Brannon said of the Lee endorsement.

The GOP divide

The endorsement came a day before Brannon is scheduled to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, a closely watched forum for hardcore conservatives. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has endorsed his campaign, is expected to attend a fundraiser for Brannon at the event.

It also further highlights the divide in the Republican Party at the national level, which is prompting big names to take sides. Tillis is backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and GOP strategist Karl Rove. Charlotte pastor Mark Harris is backed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The GOP split became a topic Thursday at a forum hosted by the Republican Women of Cary and Southwestern Wake that attracted all but three candidates – Tillis, Jim Snyder and Alex Bradshaw didn’t attend.

“Would you not rather have an 80 percent friend than a 20 percent enemy?” said Heather Grant, a Wilkesboro nurse running a low-profile campaign. “I would rather come together on what we agree on than be separated by what we don’t agree on because we can always work on bridging that gap.”

All the candidates, including former Shelby mayor Ted Alexander and Clayton physician Edward Kryn, were united in their support of term limits.

“The best term limit is every two years, we get to vote,” Brannon said. “But I do agree with Heather. Maybe today’s society – we may have to have a term limit of 12 years. If I was there in Senate today, I would vote for that.”

The candidates also confronted a pressing diplomatic question about Russia, as most emphasized the need to impose economic sanctions. Harris said he thinks Russia is more of a threat than many Americans believe it is, saying a strong military is critical to developing an effective solution.

“We must be ready to make a swift move. We must be ready to use economic sanctions. We must be ready to put all of the issues and the options on the table,” Harris said. “You cannot do that unless you have a leader who is willing to stand.”

Grant suggested positioning U.S. Navy ships in the region as a show of military strength. She also said the U.S. should send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin by leveraging U.S. natural resources.

But Kryn said the U.S. can act without sending any warships.

“We have the opportunity to cripple the Russian currency if we place the right restrictions in place with our European partners,” he said.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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