Thom Tillis Wins North Carolina GOP Senate Nomination

The state House speaker’s establishment-backed campaign now turns to the November contest in a crucial battleground race.

Thom Tillis (R) North Carolina during an interview at Roll Call in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Andrea Drusch
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Andrea Drusch
May 6, 2014, 5:29 p.m.

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.

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