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Renee Ellmers May Face Primary Challenge

Ellmers is a Republican from North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Ellmers is a Republican from North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Renee Ellmers, the North Carolina Republican who led the charge to pull the House GOP’s 20-week abortion ban bill this week, could have a bruising primary from the conservative wing of her party in 2016.  

Jim Duncan, the chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party, is mulling a bid against Ellmers, according to multiple GOP sources in the Tar Heel State.  

Duncan could not immediately be reached for comment. But GOP operatives say Duncan was looking at a primary challenge against Ellmers before this week. Operatives say Thursday’s events — in which a group of anti-abortion protesters in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life demonstrated outside her Longworth office — could push Duncan toward entering a primary race.  

Ellmers already started the 2016 cycle with a couple cracks in her hold on the seat.  

In 2014, local activists were angry over her support for giving undocumented immigrants earned legal work status , and she received a primary challenge. She defeated Frank Roche, a radio host whom Republicans called a weak and underfunded challenger , with 58 percent of the vote.  

Republicans say Duncan, a retired businessman who ran a computer disaster recovery company, is a more serious candidate than Roche. Duncan has better ties to the conservative base in the district, both because of his role as chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party and as a co-founder of the Coalition for American Principles , a group that seeks to elect Republicans in the Raleigh-Durham area.  The district — which starts in the Raleigh suburbs and makes a winding horseshoe shape through Fayetteville and up to Asheboro — includes large chunks of Chatham County.  

Still, other Republicans in the state caution defeating an incumbent is a challenge. They add that it’s an especially difficult in the 2nd District, which falls in the expensive Raleigh media market.  

“North Carolina is a very, very expensive state,” said Paul Shumaker, a North Carolina Republican operative who worked on Sen. Thom Tillis’ successful 2014 campaign. “And I can tell you just in the Thom Tillis primary, an eight-way primary statewide … he was able to get where he needed to be because he was able to put the resources together. Anybody thinking of challenging her in the media market in which she lives has to have more than just appear to be part of a certain coalition.”  

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