Michael Barone

Results of Tuesday's primaries, particularly the victory of state House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina's Republican Senate primary, are being hailed -- or decried -- as a victory for the Republican establishment over the Tea Party movement.

There's something to that. Tillis benefited from support from Karl Rove's American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and endorsements by Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.

In contrast, Sen. Rand Paul flew in on the day before the election to campaign for second-place finisher and fellow physician Greg Bannon, who was also endorsed by Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks. Mike Huckabee campaigned for the third-place candidate, minister Mark Harris.

Some conservative bloggers are making much of the fact that Tillis received less than a majority of the vote. But his 46 percent topped the 40 percent threshold to avoid a runoff in July. And his margin over Bannon, who won 27 percent of the vote, would be counted a solid victory in a state without runoffs.

Political reporters have described this race and other Republican primary contests as battles between national political players. But I think the more important thing is what the result tells us about the state of mind of Republican primary voters.

This year Republican voters seem more inclined than in 2010 and 2012 to vote for those who appear likely to be strong general election candidates and less inclined to vote for candidates who stand up on chairs and yell, "Hell no!"

Brannon made statements comparing food stamps to slavery and founded an organization with conspiracy theories on its website. Plenty of fodder for Democratic ads if he had won the nomination.

That doesn't mean that Republican voters have given up on conservatism and are content to vote for RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). Tillis could point to a solid conservative voting record in the legislature.

As Speaker of the North Carolina House, he led successful efforts to cut taxes and authorize charter schools.

The legislature controversially cut extended unemployment benefits -- a measure followed by the steepest decline in unemployment in any state.

Tillis concentrated his fire on incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and her deciding vote for Obamacare. He argued that the barrage of anti-Tillis ads and mailings by Hagan's campaign and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid showed that Democrats regarded him as the Republican most likely to win in November.

This is not to say that Republican voters are entirely pleased with incumbents. Two North Carolina incumbents beat challengers by relatively narrow margins.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM