The primary field in NC-2 held by establishment Republican Congresswoman [mc_name name=’Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’E000291′ ] has now grown to three opponents, a development that has the effect of increasing Ellmers chances of survival. Surprisingly it was not the candidate many expected, former NC Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata, who recently was the subject of news coverage in the Raleigh media of some old skeletons rattling around in his closet from his army days that has effectively ended his political aspirations.
Until now, Ellmers faced two 2016 primary opponents, former Chatham County GOP chairman Jim Duncan, who has had impressive fundraising for a challenger and been extremely well received by GOP activists, and perennial candidate Frank Roche, who has lost two previous Congressional races in two different districts and a bid for State Treasurer. The poorly funded Roche was regarded as largely a nuisance challenger who would likely not draw off too many votes.
Ellmers has not done well in primaries. In 2012, she lost two of the district’s largest and most Republican counties to an unknown GOPer who did little more than pay a filing fee. In 2014, Roche, on a shoestring campaign with virtually no media presence held her to 55%. Ellmers essentially has run poorly against opponents who were little more than stand ins for ”none of the above”. With the wide publicity earlier this year on Ellmers derailing key pro-life legislation, many conservatives in the district believed it was time that a substantive challenger could take her out in the primary.
Jim Duncan rose to the occasion and has built an impressive campaign. The first fly in the ointment was Roche coming back to run again. The problem that poses comes from North Carolina’s primary laws. For decades, to win outright without a runoff required winning an actual majority of the vote cast. In more recent years, the threshold to win without a runoff was reduced to 40%. While the stated intent was to make it easier for blacks to win Democrat primaries, the real impact in actual campaigns has been to allow moderate GOP candidates to win nominations against a divided conservative vote.
The Roche challenge was considered more of a nuisance in this regard, as he was not expected to get out of low single digits, but there was still the chance of his being a spoiler, which frustrated district conservatives who would prefer a united front against Ellmers so as to prevent her slipping back to Washington with less than a majority.
The newest entry takes that concern to a new level. Kay Daly is new to both the race and the district, and appears to have recently moved there specifically to run against Ellmers. Her only prior connection to the district was that her husband Jack Williams Daly had lived there for a while as a child. To this point, it has been her husband Jack who has been the politician in the family, changing his birth name of Jack Daly Williams to its present form so that he could be listed first on the ballot in an unsuccessful legislative bid, then nearly pulling an upset in a race for State Auditor.
While not a politician, Mrs. Daly has worked for many years in policy and is a bona fide conservative. Originally from Texas, she moved to Raleigh to work for one term GOP Congressman Fred Heineman where she met her husband. Over the past couple of decades, the Dalys have lived in the Washington, DC area, where she has worked on a variety of conservative projects and run a shoestring conservative NGO.
Mrs. Daly has now put up a website indicating she is running against Ellmers. She lists a string of endorsements mostly from around Washington, DC and mostly connected to conservative policy organizations. Curiously, the only person on the list who could actually vote in the second district was not a conservative at all. It was George Little, who is Mr. GOP Establishment in Moore County, one of the district’s largest and most Republican counties and the one to which the Dalys have moved. Little was a cabinet secretary in the administration of moderate GOP Governor Jim Holshouser and once ran as the moderate candidate for state Republican chairman against the conservative incumbent who was backed by conservative Senator Jesse Helms’ organization. The Little endorsement drew a lot of comment and has since been scrubbed from the site.
The Dalys have accused Duncan of having a ”yankee accent”, somewhat to the surprise of those who have met Duncan. Daly mentions on her website that two of her ancestors fought in the Confederate army, apparently to contrast that with Duncan’s alleged accent.
Given the efforts of the [mc_name name=’Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’T000476′ ] campaign to get as many people as possible into the 2014 Senate primary to divide the conservative vote, there has been a lot of speculation that Mrs. Daly’s move to the district to run in the primary may have been engineered by Ellmers backers for the same purpose, whether or not Mrs. Daly realized it.
The primary in the second district has taken an unexpected turn, and one that give Ellmers a greater chance of returning to Washington by edging over the 40% threshold against two conservatives who will both likely have the funds to run active campaigns plus one perennial candidate. A Tata entry into the race would have divided the moderate / establishment vote and helped Duncan, but a Daly entry into the race divides the conservative vote and helps Ellmers.
There is a bit of a silver lining, however. Duncan’s money sources are largely in North Carolina while Daly’s are mostly in the DC area, so they will not be competing with each other to a great extent for funding. That will leave two conservative campaigns pounding Ellmers record in the media.