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N.C. Conservatives in a Race to a Runoff

Douglas Graham
NC state Speaker Thom Tillis sits down for an interview at Roll Call. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Hagan’s campaign toppled all of those numbers combined with nearly $7 million in cash on hand at the end of 2013.

Conservatives face another problem: There’s no consensus candidate. Sources pointed to the fact that North Carolina has no centralized tea party organization. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee endorsed Harris, while Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., backed Brannon in October.

The key to a Tillis victory, per operatives inside and outside his campaign, is demonstrating that even though he may be a favorite of the party’s most-established members, he is also conservative.

The state house Tillis oversaw was one of the most conservative in decades: Republicans restructured the tax code, approved new voter identification law, got an anti-gay-marriage provision on the statewide ballot (which passed), and enacted teacher pay cuts.

“This primary is about a record of achieving conservative results that Thom Tillis can point to, but it’s also about understanding the fact that the path to a Republican majority in the Senate runs through North Carolina,” said Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw. “We’re focused on beating Kay Hagan in November. ... We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re confident with where we are.”

Many Republican operatives believe Tillis will have the resources to emerge from the primary successfully. But sources also warned a runoff remains probable, and if tea party factions coalesce around one candidate, that potential second GOP contest would be a more intense challenge.

Hagan won her first term in 2008 with an 8-point margin of victory over Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Hagan’s re-election is rated Tilts Democrat by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

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