Despite Kay Hagan's cynical efforts to interfere in their primary with a dishonest ad campaign, North Carolina Republicans nominated the candidate of whom Team Hagan is evidently most afraid. Tarheel State House Speaker Thom Tillis needed to clear the 40 percent threshold in he crowded GOP primary in order to negate a run-off -- which would have been a costly proposition, in terms of dollars and time. He did so, with percentage points to spare. If he hadn't, Tillis and his closest rival would have locked horns for two more months, depleting the party's resources, and firing salvos at one another. The embattled incumbent, meanwhile, could've kept her powder dry while hunkering down for the general's delayed start. Instead, the race to November is on. Hagan -- who provided the 60th and deciding vote for Obamacare in the US Senate -- has been literally running away from questions about the law, while trying to convince voters that Tillis is a hypocrite on the issue. Primary voters weren't fooled. Though Tillis rejects the "establishment" label by pointing to his strong conservative voting record, he was the undoubtedly the party's top choice. The second- and third-place GOP candidates were libertarian-leaning Tea Party favorite Greg Bannon (a doctor supported by Sen. Rand Paul), and Pastor Mark Harris (who was endorsed by Gov. Mike Huckabee). Tillis had the backing of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, American Crossroads and the US Chamber of Commerce. North Carolina is among the dozen or so states that could prove decisive in Republicans' quest to eject Harry Reid from his perch as Majority Leader. I discussed the North Carolina race on Fox News yesterday afternoon, within the context of the Washington Post's recent projection that the GOP has an 82 percent likelihood of winning the upper chamber:
The NRSC released this statement last night, congratulating Tillis on his victory:
"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. Kay Hagan promised to be an independent voice for North Carolina, but instead has voted with President Obama an astounding 96 percent of the time. It's far from the only promise that Kay Hagan broke to voters in North Carolina. By November, this race will be a clear contrast between an effective candidate versus an ineffective Senator. Congratulations to Thom Tillis on his well-deserved win. On to victory in November."
In case you'd forgotten, Hagan attacked her 2008 Republican opponent for voting with President Bush 92 percent of the time. Hagan's slavish devotion to Barack Obama has exceeded that benchmark; she's backed the Obama line 96 percent of the time. Obama lost North Carolina in 2012. A few additional nuggets from primary night:
(1) Ohio and Indiana also held contests yesterday. The only noteworthy item from either state was John Boehner coasting to victory over a primary challenger who raised eyebrows with a controversial "electile dysfunction" ad, which subsequently cost him one of his jobs.
(2) For what it's worth, with more than 99 percent of precincts reporting, approximately 486,000 North Carolinians voted in the Republican Senate primary, whereas 475,000 cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Hagan pulled in 368,000 votes in her primary win, compared to the combined total of the top three Republican finishers: ~439,000. While it's true that only the GOP race was really contested or competitive, this vote disparity could point to the enthusiasm gap that may manifest itself in a fairly conservative-leaning electorate this fall. Especially if independents break for Republicans by a significant margin.
(3) Elsewhere in North Carolina, Tea Party Congresswoman and nurse Renee Ellmers comfortably survived a challenge from an opponent who ran hard against Ellmers' embrace of immigration reform. Despite Frank Roche's torrent of "amnesty" criticism, Ellmers carried the day by roughly 20 points. She'll face former reality show runner-up Clay Aiken in the general election. I'll leave you with a clip of Aiken losing season two of American Idol. Yes, those are Japanese subtitles...because why not?