WASHINGTON -- Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers is mulling a bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014, but has some obstacles to consider: a competitive primary field, attacks on her record and a so-far meager campaign war chest.
In the primary, Ellmers would face formidable challenges, especially if two top state lawmakers, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and state Senate President Phil Berger, decide to run.
Ellmers is calculating her options, but not talking about it publicly. Although she ran as a tea party-supported outsider and a long-shot in 2010, she soon aligned with the House Republican leadership.
She gained exposure and a seat on the important House Energy Committee. But she also got anger from the right.
The Club for Growth, a powerful conservative political action group, for one, is attacking her. The anti-tax group criticizes Ellmers on its website for a string of votes, including one to increase the debt ceiling in 2011, which also included large spending cuts, and another for a broad funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, which included money for the president’s health care plan.
“We don’t like her,” said spokesman Barney Keller. “The Club for Growth PAC doesn’t support liberals like Renee Ellmers for Congress.”
That criticism is echoed on The Daily Haymaker, a conservative North Carolina blog by Brant Clifton. Meanwhile, Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, gives her a 63 percent approval rating on the seven votes it scored so far this year.
Other conservatives see her record differently. The American Conservative Union a 91 percent rating for 2012.
Ellmers shares positions on key issues with other Republican conservatives, including opposition to any new gun-control measures and a stance on immigration that emphasizes border security. She does not advocate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
But even if Ellmers defends her conservative credentials successfully, she still would have to find a lot of supporters with fat wallets. In the first quarter of this year, she raised only $100,000.
“I think she’d be a great candidate, but I think she would have problems raising money,” said Marc Rotterman, a North Carolina Republican strategist, who said that a Senate race would cost a minimum of $8 million to $10 million.
Rotterman said that Ellmers would be a clear contrast with Hagan and appeal to what he called an important group of voters, women ages 35-45.
Hagan, elected in 2008, is viewed as one of several vulnerable Democratic senators seeking re-election next year. She raised $1.6 million for her campaign during the first three months of this year.
Ellmers was a long-shot candidate when she first ran for Congress less than three years ago, riding on tea party support as an alternative to out-of-touch Washington insiders. Once in Congress, she took some positions that supported the views of House leaders in the face of opposition from some on the right. In the 2012 primary, she faced three Republican challengers who argued that she’d become the insider.
After winning the primary, Ellmers had an easy race against Democrat Steve Wilkins. She vastly outspent him, and Republican redistricting gave her an advantage.
Now if Ellmers decides to get in the GOP primary and wins, she’d have to give up a safe seat in the House to run against Hagan.