GOP Establishment, Tea Party, and Hollywood Compete for Votes in North Carolina Congressional Race

The May 6 Republican and Democratic primaries in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Raleigh and several surrounding counties, have a cast of characters fit for a Hollywood soap opera about politics.

Incumbent Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) has spurned the Tea Party that got her elected in 2010 and become the darling of the House Republican establishment. Her primary opponent, talk radio host and financial services professional Frank Roche, has recently been endorsed by two prominent local Tea Party groups.

With only $8,000 in the bank as of March 31 according to Federal Election Commission records, Roche is the longest of long shots to unseat Ellmers in the Republican primary. A Rhode Island native who has only been a resident of North Carolina since 2007, Roche lost a previous attempt at electoral office in North Carolina decisively. In 2012 he lost the Republican primary for North Carolina Treasurer, winning only 42 percent of the vote.

For her part, Ellmers has plenty of money in her campaign. Her first quarter 2014 FEC report shows she has over $430,000 in cash, and raised more than $900,000 during the first three months of the year.  Most of this amount--over $690,000--came from business oriented political action committees.

On the Democratic side, former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, his entertainment career stalling, has raised most of his campaign's $230,000 from out-of-state sources, including some in Hollywood, California, where he recently held an invitation-only fundraiser. Aiken's top opponent, former textile manufacturing executive Keith Crisco, has loaned over $300,000 to his own campaign.

In what should be a cakewalk re-election, Representative Ellmers now faces an obstacle strewn path back to Washington. Should she defeat Roche in the GOP primary, the winner of the Aiken-Crisco Democratic primary may do better than the 44 percent her Democratic opponent won in her 2012 re-election contest, despite a year that is generally considered a good one for Republicans.

The relationship between Ellmers and the Tea Party has gone downhill ever since she was sworn in to office in January 2011. Perhaps more than any other member of the 2010 class, Ellmers has embraced the GOP establishment with gusto and expressed scorn for the movement that swept her into power.

Talk radio host Laura Ingraham recently called Ellmers out on the immigration issue when she appeared on her program recently, resulting in one of a series of embarrassing public outbursts on the issue by Ellmers.

Critics cite Ellmers' arrogant and abrasive style as the problem.

Conservative author Ann Coulter, who recently endorsed Roche over what she calls "the lying, amnesty-supporting Renee Ellmers" in the Republican primary, explained why Ellmers is so despised by the conservative base.

"Rep. Ellmers," Coulter wrote, "has dedicated herself to supporting the needs of her rich donors by being strident, rude and utterly cliched on the subject of immigration."

"Every exchange Ellmers has about immigration seems to end in a blizzard of shouts and insults," Coulter continued. "After failing to tear at the heartstrings of talk radio's Laura Ingraham with tales of rich farmers who need cheap foreign labor, Ellmers shouted that Ingraham was 'ignorant' and 'emotional.'

Ellmers' bad manners, Coulter added, extend to her constituents. "About a week later, Ellmers denounced a constituent who criticized her on immigration, telling him that he didn't have 'any damn facts' and was full of 'hatred and vitriol.' "

Coulter noted that Ellmers "is supported by Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg -- because who cares about the needs of North Carolina workers more than a Silicon Valley one-hit wonder seeking cheap foreign labor?"

The Raleigh News Observer reported recently that Ellmers "should be breezing easily toward renomination...her challenger is underfunded and little known. But Ellmers has ticked off some of her conservative base, particularly over immigration. This, at least in theory, gives radio talk show host Frank Roche some daylight." 

The News Observer also reported that "normally, Democrats would draw straws to see who would face Ellmers in such a red-leaning district, but not this time. There is a spirited race between singer Clay Aiken and Keith Crisco, the retired textile manufacturer and former state commerce secretary. Crisco is on the air with TV ads, and his signs are all over the district."

On Tuesday, the Randolph County Tea Party, one of the largest Tea Party groups in the 2nd Congressional District, endorsed Roche. "Strongly opposing amnesty or any other path for legalization of illegal immigrants, we believe Frank will best serve the expectations and desires of  the 2nd District citizens, putting them ahead of those here in violation of our immigration laws," their statement read.  

Earlier, the Moore Tea Citizens, also in the 2nd Congressional District, also endorsed Roche.


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