Is Berger hinting at U.S. Senate bid?

September 6, 2013

North Carolina Senate President Phil Berger (R) is coming off a legislative session that cemented him as one of the dominant forces in state politics, if not the only one . But he’s hinting he might have a grander stage in mind.

Berger’s campaign will launch a statewide advertisement next week touting an election reform bill that earned conservative praise and liberal outrage after the legislature passed it earlier this year. The ad, which Berger aides said they would spend more than $100,000 to air, will run in the Greensboro media market.

Spending all that money is a strange move for a state senator who represents about 200,000 people in Guilford and Rockingham Counties, around Greensboro — unless Berger has something bigger on his mind. And the text of the ad seems to pit Berger against a target larger than any opponent he’s ever faced.

“You need a photo ID to drive, cash a check, even to buy medicine. Shouldn’t you show a photo ID to vote? Liberals like Obama and Kay Hagan say no,” the narrator says. “Phil Berger fought the liberals, and won. Now, thanks to Phil Berger, voters must show a valid ID to vote.”

The ad dubs Berger an “effective conservative.”

Berger has kept his name afloat as a possible rival to Hagan, the freshman Democratic U.S. senator who is seeking reelection next year. In an interview this week, he said he was still considering making a run, but that he hadn’t talked with the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the past month. The ad, which will begin airing Monday, is paid for through Berger’s state account, rather than a federal account, but Berger has spent years building a small-dollar donor network he could tap if he decides to run for Senate.

So far, national Republicans have pinned their hopes on state House Speaker Thom Tillis, though local Republicans have qualms about his candidacy. Most don’t expect Berger to actually pull the trigger on a race, but, as the ad makes clear, the door to a race is wide open.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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