- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon touted a new endorsement Thursday, while rival Thom Tillis announced a $1.1 million television ad.

Brannon announced backing from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a tea party favorite quoted in a statement as saying the Cary obstetrician is willing to “challenge the status quo and entrenched special interests.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul already endorsed Brannon, who immediately put Lee’s endorsement to work in email fundraising appeals.

“I’m eager to join him in the effort to repeal Obamacare, advance a conservative reform agenda, and restore constitutionally limited government to the U.S. Senate,” Brannon said in a news release.

Brannon’s campaign needs money to compete with state House Speaker Tillis, who had raised the most funds among the Republican field through the end of 2013. The GOP winner likely will take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Only Tillis has run a TV ad from within the Republican field, which has grown to eight candidates.

On Thursday, Tillis announced a new ad starting up next week in which he talks about his career from a newspaper boy and short-order cook to an IBM partner. Tillis earned a college degree in his 30s.

“My story’s not special. In America, it happens all the time,” Tillis says in the ad. “But the train wreck in Washington puts all that at risk.”

The ad will first run on cable statewide, then transition to North Carolina’s broadcast markets, save for the most expensive ones - Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham. Other commercials are coming, spokesman Jordan Shaw said.

If no candidate gets at least 40 percent of the vote in the May 6 primary, the top two finishers will advance to a July 15 runoff.

Both Brannon and Hagan have focused on Tillis as the top target.

Brannon has accused Tillis of being a moderate Republican too cozy with Washington politicians who support him, such as GOP consultant Karl Rove. Although Tillis has said repeatedly he also wants to repeal the federal health care overhaul law, statements praising items in the law have caused concerns among some conservatives.

Hagan’s campaign and Democratic Party groups have blasted Tillis for a week about his views on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. He told reporters what was being proposed in Washington is “a dangerous idea” and that artificially raising wages could lead to job losses.

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