Phil Berger, Jr. Likely to Win Next Tuesday’s GOP Runoff for U.S. Rep. Howard Coble’s Seat

by johndavis, July 7, 2014

Phil Berger, Jr. Likely to Win Next Tuesday’s GOP Runoff for U.S. Rep. Howard Coble’s Seat  July 7, 2014        Vol. VII, No. 17         8:13 am  Berger has Money, Organization and an Opponent holding a Smoking Gun Phil Berger, Jr., Rockingham County District Attorney and son of NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Sr., is
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Phil Berger, Jr. Likely to Win Next Tuesday’s GOP Runoff for U.S. Rep. Howard Coble’s Seat

 July 7, 2014        Vol. VII, No. 17         8:13 am

 Berger has Money, Organization and an Opponent holding a Smoking Gun

Phil Berger, Jr., Rockingham County District Attorney and son of NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Sr., is likely to win the GOP primary runoff race next Tuesday for retiring U.S. Rep. Howard Coble’s seat, thanks to clear advantages in money, messaging and mobilization.

Berger’s opponent, Mark Walker, a former pastor at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, has been on the defensive through much of the runoff due to allegations of flip-flopping on “granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.” A candidate seen as a flip-flopper on an issue as important to Republicans as “illegal immigration” is a candidate out of favor with conservative hardliners, the most likely voters to turn out in a GOP Primary runoff.

Mark Walker has also struggled to raise a competitive campaign war chest, or to attract the backing of an independent group like Keep Conservatives United, a super PAC which has spent about $200,000 to aid Berger during the primary and runoff.

According to a Sunday, July 6, 2014, Greensboro News & Record story, Berger leads Walker in fundraising race, “Since April, the super PAC Keep Conservatives United has spent about $92,000 in support of Berger and about $43,600 to oppose Walker.”

The News & Record story, written by Jennifer Fernandez, notes that Berger has raised twice as much money as Walker during the latest reporting period, and that Berger has spent a total of $433,922 to $274,300 spent by Walker, per the latest FEC reports.

Money means having the resources to do everything right. Messaging; Mobilization. It is a critical advantage if you are from Rockingham County, like Berger, which has only 12% of the district’s voters, running against a candidate from Guilford County, which has 43% of the voters.

Guilford County 43% Voters; Rockingham 12%; District Solid Republican

According to NCFEF’s Almanac of NC Politics 2014 Primary Edition, Guilford County, Mark Walker’s home county, dominates the 6th Congressional District with 43% of all registered voters. Rockingham County, Phil Berger, Jr.’s home county, has only 12%.

  • Guilford County 43% of the district, Alamance 14%, Rockingham County 12%, Surry 9%, Stokes 6%, Person 5%, Durham 5%, Caswell 3%, Orange 3% and Granville 1%
  • Guilford County, the political epicenter of the district, will always have an advantage in the 6th Congressional District race and will need to be courted diligently and effectively
  • The district has 39% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 25% Unaffiliated voters
  • Romney beat Obama here in 2012 by 54% to 45%; McCrory won by 58% to 40%

NCFEF has the 6th Congressional District rated “Strong Republican” on the group’s Conventional Voting Behavior Ratings. Stu Rothenberg, Rothenberg Political Report, has North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District categorized “Currently Safe Republican.” Charlie Cook, Cook Political Report, rates this district “Solid Republican” on his Partisan Voter Index.

That means that the winner of next week’s GOP primary runoff is favored to win the Fall General Election race against Democrat Laura Fjeld, former general counsel for the University of North Carolina System.

Turnout: 95%-96% will NOT VOTE; 6,000-7,000 votes wins

  • July 17, 2012 was last election with a GOP Primary runoff in congressional races
  • Only 220,635 voters participated statewide (3.58% total turnout) on 7/17/2012
  • GOP Congressman Richard Hudson won his 2012 runoff race with 10,635 total votes, reflecting a 75% drop off in Republicans participating in the 2nd round runoff
  • GOP Congressman Mark Meadows won his 2012 runoff race with a total of 17,427 votes; reflecting a 76% drop off in Republicans participating in the 2nd round runoff

On May 6, 2014, a total of 44,136 votes were cast in the 6th District GOP primary race. Based on historical 2nd round drop-off ranges of 75% to 80%, the July 15 GOP 6th District primary runoff turnout is likely to be 12,000 – 14,000 total votes.

That means as few as 6,000 – 7,000 votes could win the runoff … and the congressional seat!

Keep Conservatives United Exploit Walker’s Smoking Gun

In the July 3, 2014 Rhino Times, a conservative weekly newspaper, the commentary by John Hammer titled Walker’s Positions Evolve; Berger’s Remain Steady, described Walker as “a candidate with his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.”

A candidate with that reputation cannot win a Republican primary runoff race where the most likely voters are conservative hardliners who believe that right is right and wrong is wrong and anything between the two is not worth discussing.

Walker has been against the ropes ever since U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his campaign on June 10, 2014, in part because of his support for the immigration reform principles of the DREAM ACT. Within days, the pro-Berger Keep Conservatives United super PAC ran ads exposing two smoking gun quotes by Mark Walker on the immigration issue, quotes from respected local sources like the Rhino Times and Walker’s own website:

“I would propose legislation that would provide an incremental pathway to legalization for 12 million illegal immigrants.''

“I propose 'Pathway to Security' legislation that would provide an incremental pathway to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants.''

Walker’s response was anemic: “Truthfully, my position on this issue as a minister was not well articulated.” It was also confusing. Being for a pathway to “legalization” but against “amnesty” is a position that requires elaboration. If you have to elaborate, you lose voters.

Walker has set himself up to be portrayed as a flip-flopper on immigration. Not good if you are counting on uncompromising ideological purists to turn out and vote for you.

Berger’s Counterpunch as Good as it Gets

Berger showed his ability to counterpunch during the final weeks of the first primary race when one of his opponents funded an attack against him claiming that as Rockingham County District Attorney “he allowed a child molester to get off with an easy sentence.”

Fortuitously, a NC Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission study was released that gave the Berger camp the perfect counterpunch, one that completely discredited the attack. The report concluded that: “Defendants who are sentenced to prison in Rockingham County receive the most severe punishments available, nearly four times the state average.”

  • DA Berger’s office is ranked 1st in criminal defendants with the lengthiest sentences
  • Average Rockingham Co. max sentence is 13 months longer than state average
  • One of top three counties in state for “the longest minimum jail sentence”

As a response to an attack ad, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Meanwhile, because of limited resources, Walker has not been in a position to counter the barrage of attack ads on the “immigration flip-flop,” ads that are certainly discouraging to many Republicans who otherwise would likely have been Walker voters.

Granted, Mark Walker has volunteers from his church community that he has networked since he began his campaign in March 2013. And, he has a small, but very loyal staff. But, without operating capital he will not be able to counter the “he flip-flopped on immigration” attack ads.

Endorsements

Most endorsements are not politically significant: Campaign news over the last few weeks has included announcements of endorsements of Phil Berger, Jr. by former Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins, and announcements of endorsements of Mark Walker by GOP primary losers Mark Harris and Heather Grant. Walker also touted the endorsement of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who turns 90 in August.

Voters are indifferent to endorsements. They rarely influence the outcome of elections.

If there is an exception, it is Billy Yow’s endorsement of Phil Berger, Jr. last week. Yow, a former Guilford County commissioner, is a “Give ‘Um Hell Harry” hard-core conservative highly regarded by right-wing conservative Republicans in the area.

Last Friday, July 4, 2014, Greensboro’s News & Record ran a story on the endorsement that described Yow as, “… a popular conservative political brand in Guilford, the largest county in the sprawling 6th District. Brash and colorful, Yow is known for cutting remarks, fiery speeches and a no-holds-barred approach to dealing with Democrats.”

If Billy Yow says Phil Berger, Jr. is a solid conservative, you can bet Phil Berger, Jr. is a solid conservative. Yow’s endorsement matters. Like Howard Coble’s endorsement of Phil Berger, Jr. matters. Especially to voters most likely to turn out in the July 15 GOP primary runoff.

Walker has also been able to win several prized endorsements including:

  • Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes and Terry Johnson, the Alamance County Sheriff
  • Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson
  • Bill Wright, former Guilford Co. GOP Chair and Mayor
  • Civil rights leader Clarence Henderson
  • Summerfield Mayor Tim Sessoms and Stokesdale Mayor Randy Braswell

Phil Berger, Jr.’s endorsements include:

  • Congressman Howard Coble
  • Tony Wilkins, former Guilford County GOP chairman who is frequently referred to as “The Lone Conservative Voice” on the Greensboro City Council
  • North Carolina Sen. Trudy Wade
  • Marty Kotis, a prominent conservative Republican who made his money in real estate
  • Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw
  • Billy Yow, former Guilford County Commissioner

Key Dates/Conclusions

Final debate July 11 is a manageable risk: The final week of the campaign is the peak period of exhaustion and stress. Not a time to be taking risks with debates IF you are winning.

However, Berger’s willingness to accept an invitation to debate Walker on July 11 takes the “he’s afraid to debate me” issue off the table, leaving Walker with little to counter Berger’s attack machine. Berger wins the debate by not losing the debate due to a gaffe. A manageable risk.

The debate will be recorded here in Raleigh at TWC News, with “Capital Tonight” anchor Tim Boyum as the moderator. It will air at 7:30 pm, July 11 on the TWC affiliate channels.

  • Absentee Voting by Mail began May 31, 2014
  • Early voting began July 3, 2014; ends July 12, 2014
  • Election Day July 15, 2014

Phil Berger, Jr., Rockingham County District Attorney and son of NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Sr., is likely to win the GOP primary runoff race next Tuesday for retiring U.S. Rep. Howard Coble’s seat, thanks to clear advantages in money, messaging and mobilization.

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Thank You for Reading the John Davis Political Report

JND SignatureJohn N. Davis, Editor

 

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