Ford O'Connell: Primary Battle Will Hurt GOP Senate Hopes in NC

Wednesday, 23 Apr 2014 06:40 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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North Carolina has a Republican candidate capable of unseating Democratic incumbent Kay Hagen provided he can survive the primary season with enough resources left for the general election, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says.

O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth and John Bachman on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV that he believes Thom Tillis has what it takes to give the GOP the crucial victory it needs if it is to gain control of the Senate in the fall midterm elections if he can avoid a drawn-out primary.

Tillis, North Carolina's state House Speaker, faces four other candidates in the May 6 primary, including physician Greg Brannon, and Baptist minister Mark Harris, who has tea party backing. If Tillis doesn't clear the 40 percent mark in the primary, he will be forced into a runoff against another Republican on July 15.

"Right now Thom Tillis is leading but he's only polling about 20 or 25 percent," O'Connell said. "If he doesn't get 40 percent then he's going to have a run-off. The question is, the rest of the candidates are a little bit more conservative and do the votes of the other candidates coalesce when they actually have a run-off in July? I think this is heading to a primary run-off and then we're going to see who emerges after that."

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If the primary does indeed go to a runoff, the problem for Tillis, according to O'Connell, becomes money. Although Hagan has been slammed consistently by the GOP for her support of Obamacare in television ads, she has raised $8.3 million through the first quarter of 2014.

Despite the backing of the billionaire Koch brothers' group Americans for Prosperity, Tillis has raised only $1.3 million in the first quarter of this year.

"When we go to a runoff in July what's going to happen is the two candidates are going to wind up bleeding resources, which is really only going to benefit Kay Hagan," O'Connell said. "Right now, it seems that everyone's focused on Thom Tillis. Kay Hagan is focused on Thom Tillis and the other four candidates are focused on Thom Tillis. So right now, Thom Tillis is taking fire from all sides."

O'Connell said getting the Republican base to rally around Tillis, should he prevail, and contribute financially to his campaign will become critical.

"Sometimes what happens when you have these contentious primaries that some people wind up, when their candidate doesn't win, they take their ball and go home," O'Connell said. "You have to remember that at the end of the day, the goal is to be a check on President Obama, defeat Kay Hagan, and fire Harry Reid. You have to keep everyone's eye on the prize with the respect to what the ultimate goal."

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