Under the Dome

Utah Sen. Mike Lee endorses Greg Brannon in contested Senate primary

Adding to his tea party credentials, Greg Brannon on Thursday received an endorsement from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who called him a “solid conservative.”

"I think this will be a primary in which ... conservative credentials will be on the line," Lee told the News & Observer in an 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.

Lee’s support is a boost for Brannon’s campaign and adds to endorsements from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and FreedomWorks, a national tea party organization. Brannon touted the endorsement, saying 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 first-time candidate and Cary obstetrician is appealing to hard-core conservatives, appearing on Glenn Beck’s radio program and talking about his desire to eliminate major federal agencies. He believes the federal government has two legitimate roles: protecting free trade and providing national defense.

The endorsement comes a day ahead of Brannon’s trip to Washington for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He is holding a fundraising reception nearby at McCormick & Schmick’s. The top ticket for a couple is $500 and an individual price is $165, according to an invite. Paul and Matt Kibbe, the FreedomWorks leader, are expected to attend his event.

Top Republicans often stay out of the fray in a contested party primary, such as the GOP race in North Carolina to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. Brannon faces competition from seven rivals, including House Speaker Thom Tillis, who leads in fundraising and early polls.

But the divisions in the Republican Party at the national level are 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.

In the interview, Lee declined to comment on Tillis’ campaign. “It’s not an endorsement against anyone else, it’s an endorsement of Greg Brannon,” he said.

He said he didn’t hesitate to pick sides in the primary and plans to travel to North Carolina to campaign with Brannon. “Anytime there is a Senate race and there is a conservative candidate that has a shot at winning I like to consider rather seriously getting involved,” he said. “We’ve got a good opportunity in Greg Brannon to bring in a conservative reformer, one who embraces constitutional conservatism and the conservative reform agenda.”

Despite the endorsements, Brannon’s campaign has suffered a number of setbacks in its first months. In late 2013, he acknowledged reviewing passages for his campaign website that plagiarized from Paul’s site and earlier this year a jury found him solely responsible for misleading investors in a tech company he helped start. He is expected to pay more than $250,000 to resolve the case.

Brannon also failed to pay the property taxes on his home on time and did not submit the required ethics paperwork to the U.S. Senate as part of his campaign.

Asked whether those factored into his decision, Lee demurred. “I’m excited to endorse him,” he said.