In an unusual development, an establishment oriented candidate is testing the waters to run in NC’s second Congressional district represented by liberal Republican incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’E000291′ ]. The race already features a substantial conservative challenger, former Chatham County GOP chairman Jim Duncan, and perennial candidate Frank Roche. Now, just resigned NC Secretary of Tranportation Tony Tata is also reported to be looking at the race and assessing his strength against both Ellmers and Duncan. This has led some to wonder if some elements of the GOP establishment perceive Ellmers as a loser and are looking for a different horse to ride.
Tata had earlier floated trial balloons in both Raleigh and Washington, DC about carpetbagging down to the 3rd Congresssional District to primary conservative incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’J000255′ ], but gave up on that after getting poor response and encountering fury from GOP activists over Tata’s mismanagement of issuing free ID’s through DOT which had led to a major watering down of the Voter ID program for the 2016 election.
Tata actually lives in Ellmers district, so this time he is at least looking at running in his own district. It is being reported in North Carolina that Tata has been in touch with operatives in Washington to assess the 2nd district race. Tata’s NC-based consultants are in the establishment wing of the party, and in his prior look at running for Congress, they took Tata to Washington to meet with GOP establishment figures there.
Tata came to North Carolina in 2011 to become Superintendent of the Wake County Public Schools, following a stint as Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, but was subsequently fired as county superintendent by the county school board. Moderate GOP Governor Pat McCrory appointed Tata as Secretary of the NC Department of Transportation at the start of his administration. Tata registered as an Unaffiliated voter when he first came to North Carolina and remains so today, in spite of posturing to run for Congress, presumably as a Republican, in two different districts.
Governor McCrory eased Tata’s climb down from running for Congress in NC-3 by announcing that he needed Tata to stay at DOT to work on a major highway bond that the governor is pushing for 2016. However, a later falling out over Tata’s plans for book tours led to his sudden resignation, without any notice, from his DOT post. Tata is also a published novelist, with books on a military / espionage theme, and had caught media flack for being out of state on a book tour during a snow emergency instead of on the job at DOT. The governor was insisting that Tata commit to avoid such book tours in the future, and Tata responded by resigning in a huff. That resignation has led immediately to his reopening his Congressional aspirations, but this time focused on the district he lives in rather than NC-3.
Tata has no political identity in the state other than his connection with the McCrory administration, and that administration’s aloofness from the party organization does not endear him to GOP activists. Tata has additional baggage with Republican activists from his bungling the free Voter ID’s and thus screwing up starting a full fledged Voter ID program for the 2016 election. from his order to give NC drivers licenses to illegal alien ”Dreamers”, from his championing of toll roads that are very unpopular in the state, and his continuing to maintain an Unaffiliated voter registration while serving in a cabinet position in a GOP administration. Tata also has baggage in rural counties from a change in highway funding formulas he initiated that favored large counties such as his own over rural counties. Most of the counties in NC-2 as well as all the counties in NC-3 were shortchanged on highway money by Tata’s formula. Although his home county benefited, only a small sliver of it is part of NC-2.
Policy wise, Tata is not identified on any issue as a conservative, but would likely try to use his army career before he got into education to posture as a conservative. His personal associations are with moderates and liberals of the establishment wing of the party. It is hard to guess how his consultants would play a three way race in NC-2, and speculation is that they would prefer to find a way to get Ellmers out. However, if he did get in as a three way race, he would likely split the establishment vote with Ellmers and enhance the chances of a conservative pickup in the primary.