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State House Speaker Thom Tillis wins North Carolina GOP U.S. Senate primary

Tillis turns back a challenge from Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon and will now face Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in November

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

north-carolina mugCHARLOTTE (CFP) — North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis has beaten back a Tea Party challenger to win the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, avoiding a divisive and expensive primary runoff that could have hurt GOP chances to take the seat out of Democratic hands.

State House Speaker Thom Tillis

State House Speaker Thom Tillis

Tillis captured 46 percent in the May 6 primary, ahead of Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon with 27 percent and Mark Harris with 18 percent. Under state law, Tillis needed to clear 40 percent to avoid a runoff, which would have extended the primary fight until July 15.

He will now face Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in a race Republicans have targeted in their quest to gain a Senate majority.

Speaking to supporters at his victory rally in Charlotte, Tillis called Hagan an “echo chamber” for President Obama and vowed “to beat Kay Hagan and make (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid irrelevant in American life.”

“I want you all to grab a broom, and let’s sweep Kay Hagan out of office, and let’s sweep Harry Reid right into the back row,” he said.

Tillis, 53, from Charlotte, raised the most money, had the backing of the state GOP establishment and was endorsed by Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Governor Pat McCrory.

Brannon, 53, an obstetrician from Cary making his first bid for political office, ran with the backing of Tea Party organizations and FreedomWorks, an anti-establishment conservative group.

Brannon had hoped a last-minute, high-profile visit from Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul on the day before the primary would enable him to force Tillis into a runoff.

Harris, 48, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, was one of the leaders behind a 2012 ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the Tar Heel State and was endorsed by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In his first television ad, Harris vowed to “stand up and defend the values that are the foundation of our country.”

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan

Hagan, 60, first elected to the Senate in 2008, is considered among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this year.

In a statement issued after the primary results came in, Hagan said Tillis’ “priorities are out of sync with our common sense North Carolina values.”

“As we say in our state toast, North Carolina is supposed to be a place ‘where the weak grow strong, and the strong grow great.’ I still believe in this ideal, but it is on the line this year as Thom Tillis has abandoned this shared value,” she said.

North Carolina is one of four Southern states carried by Romney in 2012 where seats held by Democrats are up for grabs this year.The others are Arkansas, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

Click here to watch video of Tillis’ victory rally from WSOC-TV.


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