North Carolina’s primary on Tuesday is the nation’s first test this year of how well Republican establishment candidates fare against tea party challengers.
The race could determine which Republican candidate will compete against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who’ll be seeking a second six-year term in November. The highly competitive race will be one of the handful around the country that will help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate in the final two years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Al three of the main GOP Senate candidates have aimed to appeal to voters on the right, and all have some tea party support. But House Speaker Thom Tillis, the front-runner, also has backing from business _ the U.S. Chamber of Commerce _ and outside groups, including GOP strategist Karl Rove and American Crossroads, the political action committee associated with him.
Much of the tea party enthusiasm is behind Greg Brannon, an obstetrician from Cary. Brannon is backed by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. The other top-tier challenger is the Rev. Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor from Charlotte who’s backed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
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Tillis needs to win 40 percent to avoid a July runoff.