BURLINGTON — Greg Brannon is approaching his goal of becoming a U.S. senator much the way he did his goal of becoming a doctor — he reads and reads.
He said lackluster grades in college forced him to read textbooks on his own for a year while he worked in a warehouse so he could get into medical school.
And when the Cary obstetrician became worried about the direction of the country following the election of President Barack Obama, he pored over the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers and legislation that tea party adherents vehemently oppose.
The self-proclaimed constitutional conservative says he decided in 2009 to try to unseat Democrat Kay Hagan this year.
“I actually read Obamacare,” Brannon told the Alamance Conservatives gathering recently in Burlington. “I actually read Dodd-Frank. This is not a game to me. I prepared for this.”
As an early personality in the state’s tea party movement, Brannon may have preached his limited-government message more than the seven other GOP candidates seeking to challenge Hagan in November.
The 53-year-old California native is now relying heavily on national tea party notables to raise campaign money or carry his message leading to the May 6 primary. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah as well as the FreedomWorks PAC have endorsed him, while conservative commentator Glenn Beck has fawned over him during radio interviews.
Because Brannon is a doctor, “he knows health care and he knows what’s wrong,” Cathy Lawler, 66, said after attending the Alamance gathering held in a cafeteria meeting room. “I’m impressed by the people that are standing behind him.”
Brannon will have to persuade enough voters that he’s ready for the job when he’s never run for elected office before. Brannon also suffered a setback in February when a civil jury decided he gave false or misleading information to potential investors of a now-defunct technology company. Brannon is appealing.
Other factions within the Republican Party also view tea party senators he’d join as obstructionists. Brannon said his election would help give Paul and Lee — who came to North Carolina in late March to raise money for him — another vote in their corner.
“I said I’ll never compromise on two things — life and the constitutional rule of law,” said Brannon, who strongly opposes abortion.
GOP voters are deciding how much they want their nominee to cooperate on Capitol Hill or draw a line in the sand, said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. The leading primary candidate must get at least 40 percent to avoid a runoff.
“I think they’re even conflicted themselves,” Taylor said, on “which Republican candidate is best positioned to beat Kay Hagan.”
Brannon’s stump speech is packed with references to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the U.S. Constitution, which he quotes articles and clauses by name.
The federal government is overstepping its bounds of authority, failing to help individuals with inalienable rights pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he says.
“We are in a constitutional crisis. It doesn’t matter what the issue we talk about,” Brannon said at the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Forum in late March.
Brannon essentially says the federal government can’t act beyond the enumerated powers in the U.S. Constitution. Power to oversee public education? It’s not in there, he says. Neither is the power to require people to get health insurance.
“Obamacare attacks the fabric of every single one of these inalienable rights,” he said.
He says the health care law should be replaced with largely unfettered competition for insurance and health care services. The federal government should return to the gold standard for currency, he says, and Social Security should be phased out for younger workers and replaced by private or state-run pensions.
Born in a Los Angeles suburb to a single mother, Brannon dreamed of attending the University of South California and becoming a physician. He attended USC for undergraduate work and ultimately finished medical school at a Chicago school. Eventually he moved to North Carolina and went into private practice in 1993. He and his wife, Jody, have seven children, including three adopted from China.
Brannon and his wife view service through the prism of their faith, said Thomas Asta of Raleigh, a longtime friend who attended a Bible study at Brannon’s house. Brannon became an evangelical Christian as a young adult.
“He is absolutely truly passionate about everything that he is saying. It isn’t rhetoric,” Asta said.
Brannon has faced obstacles in competing with House Speaker Thom Tillis, the leading fundraiser to date and presumed front-runner. Tillis didn’t attend early candidate forums, failing to give Brannon an opportunity to challenge him.
Brannon got tripped up by the outcome of the civil lawsuit, which requires him to pay more than $450,000 to two former company investors. He wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit because of the appeal but says “when the details of this case come out, I’ll be vindicated.”
He also had to defend a 2012 comment that a vote for Republican Mitt Romney for president was a vote for tyranny because he was too moderate. Still, Brannon’s comment about Romney intrigued Mark Cares of Chatham County, who attended the Greensboro forum.
While not settled on a primary choice, the 43-year-old energy industry worker said he was impressed with Brannon because “he literally quoted the Constitution more than anybody.”