Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., drew her first Republican challenger on Saturday when physician Greg Brannon entered what is expected to be a crowded GOP primary field.
Brannon likely will face an uphill challenge, as he'll have to compete for fundraising with more established potential GOP candidates. From the ranks of the state legislature, House Speaker Thom Tillis and state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger have been mentioned as potential challengers. And GOP strategists pointed to Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers, Patrick McHenry and Virginia Foxx as ones to watch. Some strategists suggested that choosing a female nominee, like Ellmers or Foxx, could help chip away at Hagan’s gender advantage; she won 55 percent of the female vote in 2008, according to CNN exit polls.
“Virginia Foxx is somebody that you cannot outwork,” North Carolina political analyst John Davis said. He added that “all of them have unique strengths.”
Foxx has almost $1.5 million cash on hand, compared to McHenry’s $177,894 and Ellmers’ $175, 668, as of Sept. 30 – the last available filing. Republican consultant Carter Wrenn said none of the potential candidates have a lot of statewide name recognition, but he suggested that each candidate is an able fundraiser.
Republicans won big victories in the Tar Heel State in November, with Mitt Romney carrying the state and Pat McCrory winning the race for governor – the first time a Republican has been elected to that office in almost 20 years. But don’t expect McCrory's win to drive Republicans to rally around one candidate during the primary. Unlike last year’s gubernatorial election, when Republicans united behind McCrory, the contest to take on Hagan could include several credible candidates. Davis said that the primary fight “could really divide the party.”
While many expect Hagan to face a tough reelection bid, some experts said she has positioned herself well for the election. “If anybody can pull off a win in the state in the face of this Republican primary it’s Kay Hagan,” Davis said.