by Joseph Chesser
Recently, immigration has become the motivating issue for grassroots turnout in Republican primaries. Last night’s Georgia Senate runoff provided further confirmation of that reality. In a contest in which both men raced to become the most “anti-amnesty” candidate, wealthy businessman David Perdue ultimately prevailed by making 11-term Congressman Jack Kingston own his pro-amnesty Chamber of Commerce endorsement. Interestingly enough, polling placed Kingston ahead of Perdue by as many as 7 percentage points right before last night.
In an earlier race, Former Senate Majority Leader Eric Cantor was dealt a jarring blow when Dave Brat, a little-known George Mason economics professor pulled off an unprecedented, dominating upset over him, effectively ending Cantor’s House Speakership aspirations. Some similarities exist between these two contests: Cantor was also backed by the Chamber; his opponent Brat zeroed in on the amnesty issue (which was a particularly toxic thorn in the side of Cantor’s flesh); and polling had Cantor up by a very comfortable margin: even much larger than Kingston’s. All of this recent election news serves to provide two takeaways: the grassroots are nothing to sneeze at in any primary, and those very same grassroots on the Republican side have largely soured on the Chamber of Commerce due to their inclinations toward amnesty: a dirty 7-letter word in most conservative circles.
For North Carolina’s own Republican candidate, Thom Tillis, this trend ought to be a source of concern. Now to be certain, the Speaker experienced a good bit of luck in having an early primary before this anti-amnesty sentiment gained momentum, along with the luxury of some rather unimpressive competitors. He has already cleared the primary hurdle. Nevertheless, the grassroots are still a presence, and comprise a sizeable portion of the Republican base. In addition, Tillis bears the mark of the Chamber of Commerce, which provides name recognition and necessary cash for campaign coffers, but bears the tradeoff of its currently unattractive pro-amnesty perception.
In case further validation for this narrative is needed, in neighboring Tennessee, state Representative Joe Carr is attempting to duplicate Brat’s impressive performance by excoriating incumbent U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander on his issues regarding immigration, which, incidentally, include a Chamber stamp of approval. Whether or not Carr’s long-shot bid is successful remains to be seen, though recent polling suggests he is closing what was once a seemingly insurmountable gap.
Therefore, once Tillis is released from the purgatory of the current prolonged Legislative session, he would be well served to take measures to reach out to the grassroots (including already-depressed tea party groups), as well as to seek to mitigate the negative affects of the Chamber of Commerce liability by campaigning conservatively and aggressively on the immigration issue.