- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - More Republican candidates in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate primary are getting on the airwaves with paid advertisements before in-person voting begins in less than two weeks.

On Friday, the Rev. Mark Harris rolled out his first commercial, now airing on cable television statewide but later expanding to broadcast stations, a campaign spokesman said. The campaign for Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon also said Friday it intends to start running TV and radio ads Monday but didn’t provide details.

Only state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who started in January, had run TV ads before now. Tillis is the biggest fundraiser in the eight-candidate May 6 primary field. Early voting starts April 24.

Tillis is benefiting from $1.1 million that American Crossroads, a group co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, says it’s spending on ads supporting him this month. He has the support of a national anti-abortion group and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well.

For his first TV ad, Charlotte pastor Harris is spending more than $300,000 to present his message. The commercial uses images of a cross, meetings with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Harris‘ family to promote his social conservative leanings.

“I’m conservative, a Christian, husband and father,” Harris says in the commercial. “I want to be your next U.S. senator and I have the leadership and experience to help change the direction of this nation.”

The ad mentions neither his opponents nor Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, although her campaign took note of the commercial.

Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a release that Harris “is hiding behind a soft focus lens in his television ad, hoping voters don’t recognize that he’s with the rest of the Republican primary field on the political fringe.”

The crowded GOP primary leaves a wide opening for a potential July runoff, which would occur if no candidate gets more than 40 percent of the vote. A runoff would drain resources from the ultimate nominee, who is expected to challenge Hagan in November.

Hagan’s campaign reported this week she raised almost $2.8 million during the first quarter and had more than $8 million on hand as of March 31, dwarfing the Republican field. Tillis‘ camp said he raised about $1.3 million during the same period, with about that much in his campaign coffers.

Brannon, who is counting on support from the tea party movement, appeared in person on Glenn Beck’s radio show Thursday, his third on-air conversation this year with the conservative commentator. Brannon is slated to go on a 25-city tour before the primary, starting Saturday with eight stops in western North Carolina restaurants.

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