Brant Clifton, arguably the most well-connected observer in NC GOP politics, writes:
Well, that was quick.
In late June, the Draft Mark Harris committee was touting the hiring of Tracy Bengtson — a Mecklenburg County grassroots activist who was a key player in the election of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest — as political director. On July 12, Bengtson resigned from that post.
Harris, a Charlotte pastor and major player in the Southern Baptist Convention, had been generating some curiousity and excitement among religious conservatives and Tea Partiers seeking a candidate to support against incumbent Democrat senator Kay Hagan.
The fact that Georgia-based consultant Tom Perdue was spearheading the effort to draft Harris into the race started to raise some suspicions among the grassroots. Perdue has been the longtime political strategist for former congressman and NCGOP chairman — and Thom Tillis ally — Robin Hayes. Suggestions were made that Harris would serve as a stalking horse to split the conservative grassroots vote to benefit the Tillis campaign.
I talked today with some sources close to Bengtson who tell me that Tracy was beginning to see evidence that gives the "Tillis stalking horse" theory a lot of credibility. These sources tell me the Harris campaign is doing very little of the basic stuff — the serious business — necessary for kick-starting a Senate campaign. I was told that it was beginning to look like Harris — instead of running a serious, passionate grassroots campaign — would be used as merely a name on the ballot to draw away conservative votes.
The departure of Bengtson — and her substantial following — from the Harris campaign is sure to benefit the surging grassroots efforts of Cary physician Greg Brannon to unseat Hagan.
The media has pretty much been ignoring Brannon. Today, Politico ran a story talking about how exciting Thom Tillis's campaign is to folks in DC — breathlessly adding that Tillis stood a good chance of becoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the near future. (According to Politico, what was his inspiration for first jumping into politics? Getting a bike trail built.)
I saw another report where Karl Rove cited Thom Tillis as a candidate that really excites him.
The latest campaign reports show Tillis raising $250,000 for his Senate run. The Brannon campaign claims it pulled in $150,000 during the same period. That's awfully close, when you consider Tillis's reputation as THE political money-guy and the fact he's IN the news EVERY DAY. Recent polling shows Brannon and Senate president pro tem Phil Berger posing the most serious threat to Hagan. Tillis comes in close behind those two.
It looks a little premature to be placing the crown on Speaker Thom's head, just yet. If the Harris draft campaign does fizzle out — and this turns into a Brannon-Tillis race — we could be in for an epic clash (reminiscent of 2010 in Kentucky) between the Tea Party and the Establishment in May.