Dogfight looms in North Carolina Republican primary

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The struggle for control of the Republican Party is getting an early voter test in North Carolina, where former presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, on Monday pushed their own candidates for the right to challenge Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in November.

On the eve of today's primary, Mr. Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, assured Republicans that state House Speaker Thom Tillis is "a conservative" with deep roots in the state. Mr. Paul, meanwhile, called his candidate, obstetrician Greg Brannon, a "dragon slayer" and the "true believer" in an eight-person race watched nationally for its influence over the party and the makeup of the U.S. Senate.

Even Ms. Hagan, one of the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents, got involved in the Republican primary by taking a page out of her party's political playbook. In a mailing, she hit Mr. Tillis, the fundraising leader in the GOP pack, for saying President Barack Obama's controversial health care law is "a great idea," even as he campaigns to repeal it. Mr. Tillis' full quote called the law "a great idea that can't be paid for." Ms. Hagan voted for "Obamacare."

The push was all about inspiring Republicans to vote in a state that narrowly chose Mr. Obama in 2008 and Mr. Romney four years later. Today's balloting is being hotly monitored in a year in which Republicans are six seats away from a Senate majority and determined to put electable candidates on the ballot.

The primary might not answer the question. If no candidate gets more than 40 percent of the vote today, Republicans continue their contest through a July runoff -- costing the party time and money that could otherwise be spent attacking Ms. Hagan. Her defeat is all but necessary if Republicans want to take back control of the Senate, and party leaders were hoping to settle their contest and unite as soon as possible.



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