Donald Trump made his first congressional endorsement over the weekend, backing Rep. Renee Ellmers in her primary against Rep. George Holding in North Carolina’s 2nd District.
On Saturday, the Ellmers campaign released a robo-call recorded by Trump endorsing the three-term incumbent. The call will be sent to voters on Monday, the day before the primary.
Trump’s first foray into congressional primaries, as the presumptive GOP nominee, was always going to be noteworthy. His decision to back Ellmers, though, puts him on the opposite side of most conservative grass-roots activists and organizations in the state and country. For many conservatives, defeating Ellmers on Tuesday is their top objective in this year’s congressional primary elections.
“I need [Ellmers’] help in Washington so we can work together to defeat ISIS, secure our border, and bring back jobs and frankly so many other things,” Trump says in the recording. “Renee knows how to do it. She gets it, and together we will make America great again”
Ellmers was first elected in Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010. She unseated long-time Democrat Rep. Bob Etheridge with the backing of groups like Americans for Prosperity and conservative icons like Sarah Palin.
Since her election, the conservative and grass roots groups have soured on Ellmers.
“Renee Ellmers, in 2009 and 2010, she came to AFP [Americans for Prosperity] events and touted her conservative values,” said AFP president Tim Phillips. “And she hasn’t kept her word on that.”
“Renee Ellmers’ votes to fund Syrian refugees, Planned Parenthood, and President Obama’s amnesty plan are all shining examples of a Washington politician who has gone native,” Citizens United Political Victory Fund President David Bossie said earlier this year.
Bossie’s remarks came in an endorsement of Ellmer’s primary opponent, businessman Jim Duncan, earlier this year. In February, however, a federal judge redrew House district lines in North Carolina, reshuffling campaigns across the Tarheel State.
Ellmers now faces fellow incumbent Rep. George Holding and conservative activist Gregg Bannon in the redrawn 2nd District. Holding’s current district, the 13th, was moved across the state. That said, about 60 percent of the new 2nd District used to be represented by Holding. About 15 percent of the new district was represented by Ellmers.
Holding has a 90 percent score from Heritage Action, while Ellmers earns just 59 percent, far below the average Republican House member. Ellmers, in fact, has the lowest score of any House Republicans from North Carolina.
Given Ellmers’ voting record, it is perhaps unsurprising that many conservative groups have lined up against her. Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Susan B. Anthony List and the National Right to Life Committee are all campaigning aggressively against Ellmers.
The campaigning by Susan B. Anthony is noteworthy, as this is the first time the group has endorsed a male politician against a female office-holder. The List was created specifically to support pro-life female candidates. Their decision to back Holding over Ellmers indicates the sense of betrayal many pro-life groups feel towards Ellmers.
Last year, Ellmers led a last-ditch effort to scuttle House legislation to ban late-term abortions.
“In a shocking display of ill-informed cowardliness, Rep. Renée Ellmers said she is now asking House leadership to delay passing a bill that would protect preborn babies after 20 weeks from the horrific pain of abortion,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told Breitbart News at the time. “In her reasoning, she cited that ‘millennials’ simply don’t care about this issue, which is blatantly false. In fact, it is the 18-29 year-olds that support banning abortions after 20 weeks by the widest margin.”
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, called Ellmers’ actions “reprehensible.”
When pro-life activists lashed out at Ellmers for her legislative manuevering, the Congresswoman struck back, saying she was “appalled by the abhorrent and childish behavior” of the pro-life groups.
Ellmers has also been heavily criticized by activists opposed to President Obama’s executive actions on amnesty. She was the first Republican House member to break ranks and vote against legislation by Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn that would have blocked funds for Obama’s amnesty directives.
When pressed on her vote to continue funding amnesty, Ellmer’s office provided Breitbart News with a statement. Breitbart News’ Matt Boyle noted that the statement, “makes the case for amnesty for illegal aliens because [Ellmers] claims there is a shortage of American workers who can do jobs in her district.”
Boyle also reported that Ellmers got into a tense exchange on the issue with radio talk show host Laura Ingraham:
Ellmers melted down live on air under fire from calm but insistent questioning from Ingraham on amnesty. Ellmers called Ingraham “small minded,” “ignorant,” and at one point even adopted the third person to say “Renee Ellmers thinks for herself” when Ingraham pressed her on why she was using talking points that the National Council of La Raza first developed.
It is understandable, then, that conservative groups across the country and in North Carolina have targeted Ellmers for defeat. Given Ellmers’ strong backing for the Republican establishment and the groups lined up against her, Tuesday’s primary is likely to be very contentious.
As such, it is curious that Trump has made this his first primary endorsement as the Republican nominee. One Republican strategist unaffiliated with any of the campaigns told Breitbart News the endorsement was an example of Trump’s “loyalty.”
“Ellmers was the first female member of Congress to endorse Trump in the Presidential primary,” the strategist said. “He’s simply repaying the favor.” Ellmers endorsed Trump in late March, soon after he narrowly won the North Carolina primary.
Ellmers is likely to face defeat on Tuesday, although she is helped by having two challengers to her right. She has raised $1.3 million through May 18th, almost 80 percent of which came from PACs. Her chief opponent Rep. Holding has raised $1.5 million, less than half of which came from PACs.
Given the make-up of the district, Holding’s more conservative voting record and the aggressive campaigning by grass roots and conservative groups against Ellmers, Holding has an edge going into Tuesday’s vote. Trump’s support for Ellmers, though, could make a big difference in the election, which will likely have a low turnout.
North Carolina is pivotal in November. If Trump’s endorsement secures Ellmers another term, defying countless conservative activists, the GOP nominee could face a backlash for the general. Tarheel conservative activist Nathan Tabor, worrying about just such an outcome, sent an email to conservatives in the state Sunday night:
Stunned Trump supporters believe that Trump is not aware of Ellmers’ open borders position and that he has been ill-served and gotten “bonehead” advice. The real question is: “Who gave Trump this advice and why are they still on the payroll?” Fortunately, the general election is several months away, but Trump can’t afford to have this kind of staff work when he goes against Hillary. Conservatives are urged to call Mr. Trump’s office at 212-832-2000 and ask: “Why is he endorsing and doing a robo-call for an open borders, pro-choice candidate?”
Most party nominees avoid contentious intermural primaries, for obvious reasons. Trump, however, has made on art of doing the unconventional. It has usually paid off during the Presidential primaries, so far. As always, though, the stakes get much higher as the general election nears.