State-house speaker Thom Tillis emerged victorious Tuesday evening, capturing over 45 percent of the vote and easily clearing the 40 percent threshold that would have sent him into a July run-off with the second-place finisher. Obstetrician Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor, who ran to Tillis’s right, divided the tea-party vote and finished with 27 and 17 percent respectively.
Tillis will face Kay Hagan, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents — her approval rating dropped to an all-time low of 33 percent in March — in November’s midterm election. Among Republicans, the seat is considered among their most promising pick-up opportunities, and one that the party must win if it is to retake the Senate majority.
Tillis and his establishment backers, who include John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Mitt Romney, succeeded on Tuesday in avoiding a real showdown with the Tea Party in a July run-off, where he would have faced second-place finisher Brannon one-on-one.
Outside groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the business-friendly Chamber of Commerce poured over $2 million into the race on Tillis’s behalf to avoid that scenario. …
Tea-party groups spent less than $200,000 on Brannon’s behalf and made no independent expenditures at all to support Harris. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which has endorsed nearly every insurgent Senate candidate, did not endorse a candidate in North Carolina. The Club for Growth, which has made endorsements in the Nebraska and Mississippi primaries, stayed out too. One result: Tillis outraised each of Brannon and Harris by a factor of three.