Rob Christensen

Christensen: Thom Tillis is the 3rd NC senator Karl Rove has handpicked

Here are some thoughts on last week’s election in North Carolina.

Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, hit the political Tar Heel trifecta with the election of Republican Thom Tillis to the Senate.

Tillis is the third North Carolina senator that Rove has been instrumental in elevating to the Senate.

The first was Elizabeth Dole, the former Cabinet secretary, whom Rove recruited to run for the Senate in 2002, when it became apparent that Sen. Jesse Helms’ health was failing. It was in the Bush White House’s interest to keep the Senate in Republican hands. Rove sent consultant Ed Gillespie (who last week nearly won an upset in the Virginia Senate race) to North Carolina to run Dole’s campaign. He also made sure that Bush campaigned more for Dole than any other candidate that year, with the exception of his brother Jeb Bush, who was running for governor of Florida.

Dole defeated former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles.

Two years later, Rove summoned a promising congressman from Winston-Salem, Richard Burr, to the White House, and asked him if he would like to be a senator. With Rove’s help, Burr defeated Bowles in 2004.

This meant that both of North Carolina’s senators were Rove recruits. But in 2008, Dole was defeated by Democrat Kay Hagan as part of the Barack Obama victory. A year ago, Rove – no longer in the White House but still a power in GOP politics – began an effort to get the seat back for the Republicans.

He recruited Tillis, the state House speaker, showed him around Washington to GOP and business bigwigs, and attended fundraisers for him in North Carolina. But more importantly, Rove ensured that his group, Crossroads GPS, gave $4.8 million to Tillis, helping him win the GOP nomination over several less electable candidates. He also undoubtedly influenced other Washington players, such as the Chamber of Commerce ($5.2 million in pro-Tillis ads), to back Tillis.

So Hagan was defeated, and Tillis won Dole’s old seat back. All is right again in the Roverian world.

Deeper shade of red

The North Carolina congressional delegation, which is already conservative, is about to become more so.

Tillis’ victory means that a solid Republican Party-line vote will replace a solid Democratic Party line vote, which is a major ideological shift. In the 7th House District, moderate Democrat Mike McIntyre, who is retiring, will be replaced by Republican conservative David Rouzer, who touts his background as an aide to Helms. In the 6th District, moderately conservative Republican Howard Coble, who is retiring, will be replaced by tea party Republican Mark Walker.

The only member of the delegation who might still be described as a moderate is 3rd District Republican Walter Jones, although with his strong anti-immigrant, anti-abortion stands, he is not everybody’s idea of a moderate.

North Carolina’s congressional delegation was ranked the 19th most conservative in the country in 2013 by the nonpartisan National Journal, about the same as Ohio. It will likely be rated far more conservative next time.

Women back to 2nd tier

Five years ago, women were prominent in North Carolina politics. A woman, Bev Perdue, was governor. A woman, Kay Hagan, was U.S. senator, and a woman, Sarah Parker, was chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. Come January, there will be no women serving in the top-level offices. The highest-ranking women in Tar Heel politics will be women in second tier positions – Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, Virginia Foxx and Alma Adams.

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