The GOP field to challenge Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan will likely take shape in June, local Republican operatives say.
Most notably, GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers — who is currently weighing whether to challenge one of the cycle's most vulnerable Democratic senators — said through an aide that she hopes to have a decision then.
“Congresswoman Ellmers is praying about it, discussing it with supporters and monitoring how things develop,” Ellmers campaign spokeswoman Jessica Wood told CQ Roll Call. “She expects to have a decision in June.”
(See also in Roll Call: Rothenberg: Most Vulnerable of '14? Pryor by a Hair ) Two of the other possible Republican contenders, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and state Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger, will likely wait until the state's legislative session ends this summer before officially deciding to enter into the race, said Paul Shumaker, a top Republican consultant in the state.
“Berger and Tillis need to get through this session and then will decide if they’re in or out real quick,” Shumaker said, adding that the legislative session historically has ended in July or August.
“But the goal is to be done by the end of May or the First of June,” said Shumaker, who counts Tillis as a client.
The race is expected to be one of the most competitive contests of the cycle. Hagan's 2008 victory was bolstered by President Barack Obama's win in North Carolina, but she will not have a top-of-the-ticket race to turn out voters this cycle. Obama lost the state in 2012 by a narrow margin.
“This time around, I think Republicans at this stage, 13 months out from the primary, probably feel they have a better chance at beating Kay Hagan next year than Democrats had of capturing the seat this time in 2008,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.
Hagan is gearing up for the fight. She's been busy staffing her campaign team and she has hired Preston Elliott as her campaign manager. Elliott helped lead another vulnerable Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, to victory in 2012.
(See also in Roll Call: Hagan Manager Is Known for Tackling Tough Races)