This was a good election for the big boys in Washington, for deep pockets and for party connections.
Voters tended not to be in a rebellious mood Tuesday, generally giving their votes to candidates who were well within the mainstream of their party. The Republican candidates who won tended to be deeply conservative, well-financed, but also politically seasoned and well-connected to their national parties. This was an insiders’ election.
In the marquee race, the Republican establishment hoisted state House Speaker Thom Tillis on their shoulders to help him win the GOP Senate nomination – including the holy trinity of conservative politics: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and National Right to Life. As much as any figure, former White House adviser Karl Rove was the handmaiden to Tillis’ victory.
The victory did not come easy. Despite championing what he termed “the conservative revolution in Raleigh,” which was hailed by the tea party but generated a “Moral Monday” backlash, Tillis had a Mitt-Romney-like hard time closing the sale with many GOP primary voters.
But the Senate race was not the only place where the national party and its allies won Tuesday.
• In another good sign for the establishment, 2nd District Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn was supposed to be in trouble with her tea party supporters because she had befriended the House GOP leadership.
But strong primary opposition to Ellmers never materialized, and Frank Roche, her challenger, was never able to make her support for immigration reform a campaign issue.
• In the 7th District GOP primary, former state Sen. David Rouzer of Benson, who had the backing of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Action Network and YG Network, defeated a candidate from the right in Woody White, a New Hanover County commissioner. Rouzer was also attacked on the immigration issue.
• One race where the Washington establishment did not seem to be faring as well was in the 3rd Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Walter Jones’ anti-war votes and other stances had rubbed the House leadership wrong. Washington groups poured money into the district. Jones prevailed over challenger Taylor Griffin, a former George W. Bush aide. Jones wielded his own brand name, having served 20 years in the House, where his father represented parts of Eastern North Carolina for decades.
• It was also establishment connections, this time in Raleigh, but not Washington, that helped District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. lead the field in the 6th District GOP primary. His father, Senate leader Phil Berger, is the most powerful political figure in Raleigh. Berger was likely to face a runoff July 15 with the second-place finisher.
• It was a mixed result in the N.C. Supreme Court race. Justice Robin Hudson, a Democrat, backed by much of the judicial establishment, appeared headed toward the General Election. But the Republican effort, backed by GOP groups in Washington that ran ads accusing Hudson of decisions that help child molesters, failed to squeeze her out in the primary. She appears headed toward a November contest with Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson, a Republican. This was a case where a TV ad was viewed as too harsh, voters recoiled, and it ended up backfiring.
• If there was to be one clear outsider victory Tuesday night, it might be Democrat Clay Aiken, a former “American Idol” contestant, who was in a close race with Keith Crisco, who was commerce secretary in former Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration.
An Aiken outsider victory would be an exception to the rule. And on Tuesday night, Aiken was hoping he would be no runner-up.