Florida governor Jeb Bush will wade into the hotly contested Senate primary in North Carolina on Wednesday to back establishment favorite Thom Tillis, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Tillis, the state-house speaker, is hoping to amass 40 percent of the vote in a May 6 primary in order to avoid a runoff in July. The latest polls show Tillis hovering right around the 40 percent threshold.
The split between the GOP’s establishment and tea-party forces has been clean in North Carolina, with Crossroads spending over $1 million in support of Tillis and senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee backing his leading opponent, physician Greg Brannon. North Carolina governor Pat McCrory endorsed Tillis on Tuesday. The winner of the primary will face incumbent senator Kay Hagan, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection this year.
For Bush, whose political future has been the subject of backroom whispers and frontpage newspaper headlines, taking a stance in the North Carolina race is something of a public reentrance into the political fray, and it will undoubtedly fuel the speculation that he is seriously considering a presidential bid in 2016.
For months now, the governor has been increasingly busy helping fellow GOPers raise money ahead of the 2014 midterms. He has hosted fundraisers for Terri Lynn Land, who is running for Senate in Michigan, for Lamar Alexander, who is up for reelection in Tennessee, and for former George W. Bush adviser Ed Gillespie, who is challenging Mark Warner in Virginia. Hosting these events is, for Bush, and easy way to earn political chits that will come in handy if he does decide to run a year from now.
As in previous cycles, Bush has also focused on helping Republican governors win reelection. He headlined fundraisers for New Mexico governor Susana Martinez and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval in March and for Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin earlier this month. Next month, he will host South Carolina governor Nikki Haley at a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Fla.
UPDATE: The Bush endorsement came on Thursday, not on Wednesday. “Thom Tillis is a proven conservative leader with an impressive track record of results for North Carolina businesses and families,” Bush said in a statement. “His work on key issues like improving education, keeping taxes low and eliminating burdensome regulations is a testament to his leadership as North Carolina’s House Speaker.”