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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Senate Candidates Get Aggressive As They Near Finish Line

Entering the home stretch and completing the debate hurdles of the past week, we have finally converted a tortoise race into a hare sprint for the May 6 finish line among the GOP Senate candidates.

In the three debates, Heather Grant, whom most would consider in fourth place, argued for what she called a “citizen legislator.” And while there were flashes of passion and conviction through the first two debates, she stated in the final one that “for me this race is not about being the next senator.”

When it came to who was the most aggressive in all the debates, Greg Brannon won the award hands down. Relying on his interpretation of the founding principles and the Constitution, Brannon went after frontrunner Thom Tillis.

But often Brannon’s singular focus on the Constitution may have been too much, unless one adheres to the strict constructionist point of view.

Granted, that original intent philosophy enjoys a fervent view by some in the Republican Party, but most likely not enough to gain the nomination.

Mark Harris, a minister at Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and a key organizer of the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and woman, tried to stay above the fray in the first two debates, perhaps owing to his ministerial background.

By the last debate, however, Harris was punching at both Brannon and Tillis, laying pointed, yet unnamed attacks. Against the NC House speaker, Harris brought various broadsides including Tillis’ observation that the marriage constitutional amendment would be repealed in 20 years.

Against Brannon, Harris attacked him for a civil judgment delivered against him, which played into the minister’s three “Cs”: character, consistency and courage. 

For both Harris and Brannon, their main targets (when they fired) was certainly Tillis.  But for Tillis, his target was incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and President Barack Obama.

In each of the three debates, Tillis seemed to ignore his opponents and, when not agreeing with their conservative principles, launched barrages against Hagan and the President.

Tillis always seemed to be the one with the biggest bulls-eye on Hagan, and it took both Brannon and Harris into the third debate to fully engage against Hagan. 

But with only one week to go before primary, could either Brannon or Harris take down Tillis to the point of denying him the 40% plus one vote to claim the nomination outright?

For most of this primary contest, polls showed Tillis creeping always creaped along between 20 and 25 percent, with Brannon at 15% and Harris back behind.

The leading candidate, however, always seemed to be somebody named “undecided,” pulling down nearly a third of the likely voters in most polls.

But in the waning days of this political showdown, the numbers of undecided GOP voters seem to have taken a distinct turn.  With a SurveyUSA poll, commissioned by the conservative Civitas Institute, showing Tillis at 39 percent and undecided down below 20 percent, the potential for Tillis appears to be there to avoid the July 2nd runoff.

Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm, found after the first two debates that Tillis appears to have broken away from the rest of the pack, with 46% of likely GOP primary voters.  Brannon has broken into 20%, but Harris remains at 11% in the survey.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ