In a conspicuous show of unity, four former rivals joined Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis on stage at Saturday’s Republican state convention.
But it was one missing rival whose supporters could be key to unity as Tillis heads into what’s expected to be one of the most closely fought and pivotal races in the country.
Greg Brannon, who finished second in last month’s GOP primary, did not join the former candidates. Some of his tea party supporters, meanwhile, signaled their reluctance to embrace their nominee.
Tillis, a Huntersville Republican and speaker of the N.C. House, appeared confident of leading a unified party against Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
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“I’m glad the primary happened,” Tillis told nearly 700 delegates. “Now is the time to bring the battle to Kay Hagan.”
Republicans convened at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in the town of Cherokee. There were few of the factional battles that have marked some earlier GOP conventions and few reminders of contentious fights in the Senate primary.
The four former Senate candidates – Mark Harris, Heather Grant, Jim Snyder and Ted Alexander – each wore red Tillis stickers as they joined on stage in effusive praise of the candidate.
“We’re one team and support each other,” Snyder told a reporter. “Any of us is better than Kay Hagan.”
Many delegates, even those who supported other candidates, are supporting Tillis, often enthusiastically. But for some, it’s still a work in progress.
“I think it’s something a lot of people are still working through,” said Steven Rader, a delegate from Beaufort.
Some tea party activists are outspoken in their opposition to Tillis. Jane Bilello of the Asheville Tea PAC wrote, “We will not ‘suspend’ our principles and endorse the GOP inferior candidate because ‘we’ need to defeat Kay Hagan. That is a Republican game that is disingenuous and manipulative.”
On the Pundit House blog, Charlotte tea party leader Christian Hine wrote, “(W)ould Thom Tillis be more likely to vote right than Kay Hagan on a number of issues? Yes, he would. That is a short term gain. However, does his victory make long term trouble for more limited government conservatives? Yes, it does.”
Others expect even reluctant Republicans will come around in a race that could help decide control of the Senate.
“At the end of the day, those who aren’t happy about Tillis will vote for him because he’s a lot more appealing to them than the prospect of six more years of Hagan,” said analyst Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. “They are not likely to stay home because there is a lot at stake for Republicans this year.”
Republicans such as state Rep. John Torbett of Gaston County agreed. “The stakes are too high,” he said.
Jack Brosch, a Charlotte conservative who didn’t vote for Tillis in the primary, said he would in the fall.
“It’s more I’m voting voting against (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid,” he said. “I’m looking more at the national level and casting my vote for what I perceive is the good of America as opposed to carrying out some vendetta in North Carolina.”
Tillis told reporters he can win over wary Republicans with his record. One skeptic applauded his implicit support last week for repealing the Common Core educational standards.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “the greatest unifier is Kay Hagan.”