GOP candidates fall short in their US Senate campaign

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comApril 30, 2014 

So after all this time and a final debate, what enlightenment have Republican candidates for the United States Senate offered the people of North Carolina? What ideas have they for continuing the economy recovery, which has been slow off the mark in this state? What great positive thoughts do they have for improving public education? What steps will they take as senators to protect our state’s fragile and for the tourism industry, tremendously valuable environment?

And, how will they try to make sure that all North Carolinians, whom they want to represent and serve in Washington, will enjoy medical care for themselves and their children and grandchildren?

After three debates, the answers appear to be: None, none, none, none and we don’t know.

The people have been cheated. When a candidate, any candidate in any party, announces for public office at any level, he or she owes the people a platform of ideas, the ability to articulate them, the gumption to stand behind them and the confidence that those ideas will prevail against the scrutiny and criticism of opponents.

The players in this campaign include Heather Grant, a nurse and she says a steadfast conservative who has stuck with her pledge not to use negative campaigning. Sorry to say for Ms. Grant that in this campaign that fits the old cliche of bringing a knife to a gunfight. Except she didn’t even bring the knife. Perhaps that’s to her credit, but she just hasn’t been a player.

Which brings us to the three others: Cary’s Dr. Greg Brannon, House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Charlotte preacher Mark Harris.

They brought guns, but nobody could shoot straight, and the result has been a pathetic primary for those who expected substantial debate on issues or dare we hope, some actual positive ideas to advance the state and help its citizens.

The people have been shortchanged, and all three of these guys are responsible.

Brannon, a tea party favorite apparently, has the endorsement of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, which should have nothing whatever to do with North Carolina’s Republican Senate primary. One would think North Carolina’s independent Republicans wouldn’t want Rand Paul to tell them who their senator ought to be, but OK.

And Brannon’s predictably spouted the tea party line of ignoring federal laws in favor of state authority, dismissing “Obamacare” and climate change. For a revolutionary bunch, the tea party is surprisingly predictable.

Harris has the gift of gab and has lately gone into attack mode, implying his opponents have “baggage.” He sees Brannon carrying a suitcase related to allegations his mislead investors in a tech company startup and Tillis toting the ol’ Samsonite for not being fully committed to the anti-gay marriage amendment lawmakers put before voters.

Tillis, basically a tuna salad business-type Republican who doesn’t appear entirely comfortable with the fire breathers, recently has had to reassert his conservative credentials to assure GOP voters that he could hold his own at the sirloin buffet with Harris and Brannon.

It’s embarrassing, or should be. The guy won election to the state House, then speaker, and the others are riding him like a $2 mule for not towing the right-wing line? Good grief, Tillis seems to be saying lately: What do you guys want? Medicaid expansion blocked, check, unemployment benefits cut, check, Obamacare attacked, check, and the anti-gay marriage amendment passed, check. C’mon, guys!

And now, with the primary less than a week away and Republicans charged with choosing an opponent for incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, the party is divided and when it comes to sound ideas to help the state and the country, there’s dust in the bottom of the ideas well. Nothing positive. Nothing of substance. Nothing. Gov. Pat McCrory has endorsed Tillis, a curious choice in a way in that he’s siding with one Republican against others. But McCrory can’t afford to buck the speaker. His endorsement, given his low profile, likely isn’t going to help anyway.

When the primary season began, Republicans thought they might have a pretty lively time of it but still emerge with a strong candidate in Tillis, who’s had big money backing and the support of national Republican leaders. Instead, he’s had to swing way right even though he knows he can’t win the Senate seat without moving back to the political center, or at least getting off the right shoulder.

He’ll probably win the nomination, even if he has a runoff, but he’ll be bloodied by the family feud, and in Hagan, he’ll have an opponent who is a skilled debater and will hold him to account for everything he’s said in the GOP primary.

In the meantime, coming up with a few ideas wouldn’t hurt.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at

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