WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr is one of just three vulnerable senators to come near the Republican National Convention this year.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson made a last-minute decision to address the convention in Cleveland Tuesday night at the invitation of Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who’s in the awkward position of having the convention in his backyard, has been trying to do his own thing .
But Burr, while he’s only spending one day in Ohio and isn’t involved in official convention programming, seemed quite comfortable coming to town and excited about the prospect of campaigning with GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump.
Ahead of Wednesday’s North Carolina delegation breakfast, held at the Marriott hotel here, about 2o miles east of the convention site, Burr’s staff wasn’t even sure he’d make it.
He was the morning’s final speaker, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and North Carolina’s junior senator, Thom Tillis.
Burr ended up spending nearly two hours at the breakfast, addressing the delegation, schmoozing with attendees, giving separate press availabilities to both television and print media, and asking for a photo with a student group from Wake Forest and fellow North Carolinian, Rep. Virginia Foxx.
He even made news, announcing to the delegation that his re-election race in November will be his last .
“The next generation has a lot to contribute, and I need to get out of the way and let them do that,” he said.
After pausing to read a message his aide passed to him on her phone, Burr clarified to reporters that he still intends to run in 2016 and serve a full-term if elected.
“I’m going to run as hard as anybody’s ever run,” he said.
What emerged from Burr’s one-day stop at the RNC was an image of a two-term senator who’s content with where he and the Republican presidential nominee stand three months before Election Day.
“If, for some reason, North Carolinians believe that I haven’t done enough, then a real simple thing will happen. I won’t get re-elected,” he told reporters, mostly from North Carolina, who stuck around to chat with the infamously sock-less senior senator.
Far from distancing himself from Trump, as other senators up for re-election this year have tried to do, Burr compared himself favorably to the New York real estate mogul.
“He’s a very nontraditional candidate, and he’s run a very nontraditional campaign. Most in Washington would probably say that describes me to a T. And so I can associate with Donald Trump very well,” he said.
In particular, Burr touted his lack of experience in law and politics before running for Congress, instead playing up his business acumen and his desire to return to the private sector after he retires.
The campaign of former state Rep. Deborah Ross took a hit at Burr for trying to hitch himself to Trump.
“If Richard Burr ran on his own record, he’d have to defend his plan to privatize Medicare and his support of tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs — and he knows that won’t fly with voters,” campaign press secretary Cole Leiter said in a statement.
Burr isn’t nearly as vulnerable as a few other Senate Republicans up for re-election this year. His contest against Ross is rated Leans Republican by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.
But Ross, the former director of the state ACLU, has outraised him for two quarters in a row, hauling in $2.1 million to Burr’s $1.6 million.
Though with $7 million in the bank, the senator maintains a strong financial edge.
Burr hasn’t yet appeared with Trump. He stayed in Washington, D.C., during Trump’s rally in Raleigh earlier this month.
Trump reportedly liked Burr as a potential running mate, but the senator played down speculation about how seriously he had been considered in the process Wednesday.
“That was driven more out of a slow news day than out of interest from the campaign,” he said. “I’m sure there were a number of people that were looked at, and being chairman of the Intelligence Committee would have put me on that list,” he added.
North Carolina is a crucial battleground state — one that Trump almost certainly has to carry to win the presidency. Its changing demographics and the growth of its metropolitan areas have made it more purple than red in recent several cycles. Democrats are hopeful that with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, they’ll deliver it safely into the blue column.
But Burr’s not buying it.
“Trump has a message that will permeate from one end of our state to another,” he said. “It’s not just rural in nature. It will speak to the urban areas of Charlotte and Raleigh — because his message is about growth.”
Burr won’t be sticking around in Cleveland to see Trump speak Thursday night. But he emphasized that his decision had nothing to do with his lack of support for the GOP nominee.
He’d rather watch the speech from the comfort of his home, where he can spend some time with his four-month-old granddaughter.
“I believe coming in for only one reason, and that’s to see the North Carolina delegation,” he said.
As for what else Burr would be doing in Cleveland Wednesday, he remained vague.
“I’m going to be busy for most of the day,” he said.