Thom Tillis, the candidate of the GOP establishment, won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina on Tuesday, avoiding what would have been a contentious run-off with a tea party opponent.
The Associated Press called the race for Tillis about two hours after the polls closed.
Tillis, the state’s House Speaker, defeated tea party activist Greg Brannon and Baptist minister Mark Harris by exceeding the 40-percent threshold to win the nomination outright. Had he not won at least 40 percent, Tillis would have had to face the second-place finisher in a July run-off.
He will go on to run in November against Sen. Kay Hagan, viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year. Tillis’ supporters had argued before the election that he was the best candidate to defeat the incumbent, while the other candidates would have a harder time.
“Tonight voters recognized that Thom Tillis is a strong leader with a history of getting things done for North Carolina, a strong contrast with Kay Hagan who, beyond ObamaCare and being a rubber stamp for Barack Obama, has little to show for her time in Washington,” National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Jerry Moran said.
National Democrats immediately pounced.
“For the next six months Tillis will have to defend an out-of-touch record that’s anti-middle class, unethical, and at the end of the day, unelectable,” said Michael Czin, the Democratic National Committee spokesman. “That’s a contrast we’re happy to make.”
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the GOP primary had also shaped up to be a proxy battle of sorts between potential 2016 presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee — who all supported different candidates.
Bush, the former governor of Florida and a favorite of the establishment forces within the GOP, threw his support behind Tillis. Paul, the libertarian-leaning senator from Kentucky, campaigned for Brannon. And Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, backed fellow Baptist minister Mark Harris.
Bush, Paul and Huckabee all acknowledge they are considering 2016 presidential campaigns of their own.
Tuesday’s primary race in North Carolina kicked off a month of competitive Senate primaries across the country, including contests in Nebraska, Georgia, Kentucky and Oregon in May.