Like a lot of political animals, when I saw PPP’s survey yesterday showing NC GOP SEN candidate Thom Tillis “breaking open” the contest and roaring past the 40% threshold for avoiding a runoff against “constitutional conservative” stalwart Greg Brannon, I figured it was “game over.” We are, after all, in the final week of the primary campaign. Brannon has some issues; he’s kind of Paul Broun with legal problems. And Tillis has done a good job of combining his Republican Establishment backing with an ad campaign describing him as sort of the Lenin of a “conservative revolution” in Raleigh (I’d personally describe him more as the Molotov to Art Pope’s Stalin, but maybe that’s just me).

So it was a bit of a surprise today to learn that Rand Paul is invading North Carolina at the last minute to thump the tubs personally for Brannon. Perhaps he’s seen polls showing the race as closer than PPP has it; primary polling is, after all, an imprecise science. Or maybe he made an earlier promise to campaign for Brannon and has waited til the last moment so that he can be credited for a brave effort rather than blamed for a close loss. I certainly don’t know.

But the Politico piece on Paul’s NC gambit is useful as a roundup of the fairly limited 2014 primary activities of 2016 presidential hopefuls. The big pattern is that they are not messing with any Republican incumbents, largely limiting their interventions to open or Democratic seats like NC’s. So “gutsy” as Paul seems in rushing in to back Brannon, he’s still the same pol who’s held his nose and offered cover to Mitch McConnell.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.