By Pete Zamplas- North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis will tangle with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in a pivotal battle that could tilt Senate power, after winning the statewide Republican primary Tuesday.
Tillis avoided a run-off, by securing at least 40 percent of the vote in a crowded, eight-person GOP primary. He totaled 222,238 votes, for 45.7 percent. He has establishment GOP backing such as from Gov. Pat McCrory. Tillis is considered mostly conservative, with National Rifle Association (NRA) backing. Yet some political observers hail him as moderate enough on some issues, to draw conservative Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Tillis pledged in his victory speech in Charlotte to “be an independent thinker,” and a “problem solver.”
Tea party favorite Dr. Greg Brannon (27 percent) and Christian Right candidate Mark Harris (17.5%), a Baptist minister, were the only other candidates above 5 percent. Brannon in his concession speech backed Tillis, in all-out effort to oust Hagan.
Tillis carried Henderson County with 45.4 percent, to 32 for Brannon and 10.3 percent for Harris, and tallied 46.4 percent in Transylvania County. Brannon took Polk County at 38.6 percent to Tillis’ 32, and edged him 43-39.6 percent in Buncombe County.
Hagan easily won the Democratic primary at 77 percent, beating Will Stewart and Ernest Reeves. Libertarian Sean Haugh joins Hagan and Tillis on the fall ballot, after squashing Tim D’Annunzio 60.7-39.3 percent.
Sen. Hagan is widely considered among most vulnerable incumbent senators, in the foremost of a half-dozen swing states that could help swing Senate control to the GOP. Her contest has reportedly drawn $20 million in outside money already, as both main parties spar over the federal health care (“Obamacare”) law. GOP star strategist Karl Rove is involved. Tillis raised $2.4 million, far outdoing primary foes, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
In campaign mailers, Tillis hammered on Democrats, labor unions and liberal special interests fearing him most. Before the primary, they ripped him in television ads such as about scandals of two of his aides. He called himself “Washington Democrats’ worst nightmare,” a legislative leader who brought a “conservative revolution to Raleigh.”
He ripped Hagan and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for backing “Obamacare” mandates and rationing of life-saving care, calling for its repeal and private-sector solutions instead. In his victory speech, Tillis said “Kay Hagan and Harry Reid are nothing but an echo chamber for President Obama’s worst ideas.” In an TV ad, he said as the buck gets passed from D.C. to Raleigh “I’ve been cleaning up Kay Hagan’s mess” and “failed policies.”
Democrats counter by portraying the state GOP as heartlessly cutting some educational and social spending. Hagan claimed in a statement Tillis represents unspecified “special interests.” Both parties claim to represent the middle class, seeking their vote.
Tillis hit on issues at the Henderson County GOP Convention March 22. He urged Congress to “repeal Obamacare, simplify the tax code, give tax relief, cut spending to reduce debt, ease regulatory “burdens” on business to protect jobs, and to authorize a pipeline from Canada to Texas to lessen reliance on foreign oil.
Tillis equates Hagan with Obama’s policy of “weakness” and “retreat,” rather than stronger sanctions to contain recent Russian expansionism and Iranian nuclear weaponry buildup.
King of the Hill
Meanwhile, a local native won the local 11th District congressional race in western N.C. Retired physicist Tom Hill of Zirconia edged businessman Keith Ruehl of Barnardsville, 54-46 percent in the Democratic primary Tuesday. Hill won his home county by 69 votes — 1,397 to 1,328. Hill is 76. He lost to Hayden Rogers, who was retiring U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler’s chief of staff, in a three-person primary two years ago. Hill again is a underdog, now facing U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows Nov. 4.
Openly-gay country singer Clay Aiken, 35, barely won his Democratic primary in District 2 with 40.8 percent in a three-person race, to avoid a run-off. The “American Idol” runner-up of a decade ago faces U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers Nov. 4, in the Fayetteville-based, conservative district.
In a major judicial race, Supreme Court Associate Justice Robin Hudson (42.5 percent) held off Eric Levinson (36.6%) and Jeanette Doran (20.9%). Levinson won Henderson County, with 41 percent. Hudson, endorsed on some Democrat fliers, won in Buncombe (53%), Polk (45.6%) and Transylvania (39 percent) counties.