WASHINGTON – North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis captured the Republican nomination to oppose imperiled Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday night, overcoming anti-establishment rivals by a comfortable margin in the first of a springtime spate of primaries testing the strength of a tea party movement that first rocked the GOP four years ago.
In Ohio, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald won the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. John Kasich in the fall. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, rolled to re-nomination for another term in Congress, his 13th.
On a night that was kind to Republican incumbents in three states, GOP Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana easily fended off a challenge from the right, rolling up 75 percent of the votes in a three-way race. First-term Rep. David Joyce of Ohio had a slightly tougher time but was running well ahead of his tea party rival.
In North Carolina, Tillis was winning about 45 percent of the vote with ballots counted in 72 percent of the state’s precincts, easily surpassing the 40 percent needed to avoid a July runoff. Greg Brannon was trailing despite support from tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor, was third.
Tuesday marked the beginning of the political primary season in earnest, and over the next several months Republicans will hold numerous contests featuring incumbents or other establishment figures against tea party challengers. Some of the races are in states where the identity of the party’s candidate might mean the difference between victory and defeat this fall, such as Alaska, Georgia, Iowa and Kentucky, as well as North Carolina. In other areas, it will matter less, including Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Hagan, whom Republicans have made a top target in their drive to win a Senate majority in the fall, won renomination over a pair of rivals with about 80 percent of the primary vote.
Hagan is among the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents in a campaign season full of them, a first-term lawmaker in a state that is ground zero in a national debate over the health care law that she and the Democrats voted into existence four years ago. Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has run about $7 million worth of television commercials criticizing Hagan for her position on the law.
Tillis ran as a conservative with the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Right to Life Committee and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Brannon had the backing of Paul.
Boehner’s nomination to a 13th term in the House was never in doubt, despite challenges from tea party adherents J.D. Winteregg and Eric Gurr.
His seat is safely Republican for the general election, as well, and it will be up to fellow Republicans – assuming they hold their House majority – to decide if the 64-year-old Ohioan serves a third term as speaker.