North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis will take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in November after pulling together enough support during Tuesday’s Republican primary to avoid a runoff and win the nomination outright, the outcome many national Republicans hoped for.
Tillis, long considered the GOP primary front-runner, earned 46 percent of the vote with 41 percent of precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race Tuesday night. He needed at least 40 percent support to avoid a runoff.
Tea-party activist and physician Greg Brannon and pastor Mark Harris — Tillis’s two main rivals for the nomination — finished with 27 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Five other Republican candidates divided the remainder.
The business-backed Tillis was the GOP establishment’s answer to tea-party challenges in the Tar Heel State and a victory in their effort to select electable nominees in this year’s battleground Senate contests. By Tuesday’s primary, Tillis had a decisive edge in name recognition over his rivals, thanks in part to an aggressive spending campaign from outside groups working on his behalf. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed group American Crossroads both backed Tillis, with Crossroads spending $1.6 million blitz to boost him even as Hagan, who is deeply endangered, tried to soften Tillis’s conservative support with ads using a cut-off quote from the state legislator to make it look like he once supported Obamacare.
Meanwhile, Tillis undercut conservative rivals by securing endorsements from the National Rifle Association and National Right to Life. Brannon and Harris, touted some big-name endorsements: Sen. Rand Paul backed Brannon, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee supported Harris. But as the name-recognition numbers show, both failed to catch on, with one principal reason being a lack of funds. Heading into the final month of the primary, Tillis had outraised them 3-to-1, and the outside spending made the disparity even worse.