As filing opens, primary field against Renee Ellmers continues to grow

[mc_name name=’Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’E000291′ ] has never been a strong vote getter in GOP primaries.  In 2012, she lost two major counties in the district to an opponent who did little more than pay his filing fee.  In 2014, she was held to 55% by a perennial office-seeker who ran a shoe-string campaign with no electronic media advertising.  Now, with filing open for 2016, she seems certain to face at least six opponents, some of them with substantial resources.  Opposition to Ellmers firmed up after her stab in the back on key Pro-life legislation earlier this year, but she has also disappointed conservatives on a wide range of other issues ranging from the Export-Import Bank to amnesty for illegal aliens.

Initially, having multiple opponents was seen as a plus for Ellmers, since North Carolina election law allows a top vote getter to escape a runoff primary if they get over 40% of the vote.  Ellmers nightmare would be a one on one race with a substantial conservative challenger.  Splitting the conservative vote worked to nominate moderate [mc_name name=’Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’T000476′ ] for US Senate with less than a majority in 2014, but the same dynamic may not work for Ellmers.  Ellmers problem is that several of her opponents will likely have the resources to blast her voting record, which for a GOP primary is what the military would call a target rich environment.  The cumulative impact of that may be more devastating than if coming from a single opponent.

The seven expected to be in the race by the time filing closes are:

  • Three term incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’E000291′ ]
  • Former Chatham County GOP chairman Jim Duncan
  • 2014 primary opponent Frank Roche
  • Kay Daly, who ran conservative NGO’s in the Washington DC area and moved to the district this year
  • Former North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata
  • Former 4th District GOP Congressional nominee Tim D’Annunzio
  • Former army special forces officer Harold King

Duncan and D’Annunzio have a significant ability to self finance, and Duncan has already proven himself a substantial fundraiser within the district.  Tata and Daly are also expected to be able to raise the resources to run active campaigns.  As to a ground game, Roche has a few volunteers from his past race who have stuck with him, but Duncan is the one who has really gotten the enthusiasm of both grassroots GOP activists and leaders and of Tea Party activists.

Daly has an impressive list of DC-area conservatives supporting her, but her roots within the district are shallow.  When she announced her list of supporters, the only one listed on her website who could actually vote for her was former 8th Congressional District GOP chairman George Little, a former cabinet secretary in the Holshouser administration and longtime leader of the party’s moderate wing, but Little’s name was scrubbed from the site after conservative blogs zeroed in on it.

Tata, one of whose consultants has been Carter Wrenn, who was Ellmers consultant in her first race, first made noises about running in the 3rd district where he had never lived, but got a very cool response so he shifted his sights to the 2nd where he lives.  Tata moved to North Carolina four years ago from Washington, DC where he had been Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia Schools, to take the position of Wake County School Superintendent.  After being fired from that position after a change in the School Board, Tata was appointed Secretary of Transportation by GOP Governor Pat McCrory.  Although serving in a GOP administration, Tata remained a registered Unaffiliated voter.  He infuriated many party activists by bungling the free voter ID’s that his department was responsible for issuing through the DMV, making the state vulnerable in the ongoing lawsuit against its new Voter ID law.  Tata finally resigned when he refused the governor’s demand that he curtail his book tours promoting his novels so that he could tend to DOT business.  It had appeared that Tata would forego the race after the Raleigh media zeroed in on a scandal that led to his leaving the military some years ago, but that does not seem to be the case.

D’Annunzio, a Tea Party favorite, was top vote getter in the 8th Congressional District primary in 2010 but did not get over 40% and so faced a runoff.  Pushed by the DC establishment who did not want a Tea Party nominee in that targeted district, the state GOP chairman publicly endorsed D’Annunzio’s opponent, going so far as to call D’Annunzio unfit for public office, even though party rules prohibited the party or its officers from taking sides in primaries.  Conservatives blamed that intervention for D’Annunzio’s runoff loss.  Redistricting placed his home into the 2nd district, but in 2012, D’Annunzio ran as GOP nominee in the heavily Democrat 4th District.  In 2014, he registered Libertarian and sought that party’s US Senate nomination, but his pledge to not actively campaign in the general election if a conservative won the GOP nomination cost him that primary.

Roche, who has run for Congress in two districts as well as for State Treasurer, has never been able to raise enough money to seriously compete for any office and has run shoestring campaigns.  His numbers were impressive for a shoestring candidate against Ellmers only because he was her only opponent and he achieved those numbers only because he was not [mc_name name=’Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’E000291′ ].  He may have some residual name recognition from 2014, but nothing compared to what the better funded challengers will be able to buy.

King comes from Ellmers home county of Harnett and has a following there, but would be an unknown quantity in the rest of the district.  King’s military history is a plus in a district with lots of  voters with a military background, but D’Annunzio and Tata also have extensive military records.

Duncan was highly successful as chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party, taking a county that had been a Democrat backwater and electing a GOP county commission majority.  A retired business executive, he is a staunch conservative and HAFA trained.  Duncan is regarded as Ellmers’ top challenger.

Another dynamic in the primary is the ability of several candidates to cut into Ellmers’ base; Daly with female voters, King with voters in Ellmers home county, and Tata with more moderate and establishment oriented voters.

Meanwhile, Ellmers has informed party leaders in the district that she will not appear at any function where any of her primary opponents are present.  This follows an incident at a media event in the district several weeks ago, when Ellmers staff required reporters to promise to limit themselves to approved topics for their questions in order to be allowed into the room.  Two refused, one of them a major TV station that covers much of the district, and their broadcast report was not about what Ellmers said at the event but about Ellmers trying to control what reporters asked, with a visual of Ellmers staff not allowing them in the room and closing the door on them.