- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis haven’t changed the targets of their campaigns after winning their parties’ nominations for U.S. Senate in North Carolina so their fall election is now a reality. They’re still blasting each other’s records and the political cadres to which each says the other is beholden.

Tillis, the state House speaker, won Tuesday’s crowded Republican primary by defeating seven other rivals and winning more than 40 percent of the votes needed to avoid a mid-July runoff. He pushed back GOP rivals favored by the tea party and Christian conservatives. The incumbent Democrat Hagan had a much easier time with her primary, winning comfortably over two opponents.

Just like the primary, Tillis kept his focus in his acceptance speech on Hagan and attempting to link her to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and what he calls the divisive policies of President Barack Obama she’s voted for since taking office in 2009, such as the health care overhaul law.

“It’s not the end of the primary. It’s the beginning of our primary mission, which has been the mission all along and that is to beat Kay Hagan and to make Harry Reid irrelevant in American life,” Tillis told supporters at a Charlotte hotel, adding, “Hagan and Harry Reid are nothing but an echo chamber for President Obama’s worst ideas.”

Hagan, meanwhile, continued to press upon Tillis after her victory, as she had in recent months as Tillis became viewed as Hagan’s strongest challenger and the leading GOP fundraiser.

She said his record as a leading engineer of the Republican takeover of North Carolina state government has led to tax breaks for the wealthy while cutting education and eliminating unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Hagan also has tried to link Tillis to conservative financiers who have bankrolled groups that already have run anti-Hagan ads.

“This election is a simple choice between two very different records. Thom Tillis has spent his time in Raleigh pushing a special interest agenda that has rigged the system against middle-class families,” Hagan said in a news release. She added: “North Carolinians know that I am the only candidate in this race who will put our state’s needs ahead of what the special interests want.”

With nearly all precincts reporting, Tillis received 46 percent of the Republican primary ballots cast, according to unofficial results. Obstetrician and tea party favorite Greg Brannon of Cary was second at 27 percent, with Baptist minister Mark Harris, of Charlotte, next at 18 percent. Both Brannon and Harris sought Republican unity in defeat behind a common goal.

“We must bring Kay Hagan home,” Harris said Tuesday night.

Hagan cruised in her primary, receiving 77 percent of the vote over Will Stewart and Ernest Reeves, unofficial results show.

Libertarian Sean Haugh also won a rare Senate primary for his party, defeating Tim D’Annunzio.

Tillis was backed by national Republican notables Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove and largely avoided confrontations with his rivals in three televised debates. Heather Grant of Wilkesboro, who also participated in the debates, finished fourth at 5 percent.

Tillis promoted the Republican agenda in Raleigh of lowering tax rates and regulations and passing abortion restrictions, as well as endorsements from National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association. Hagan has portrayed herself as a middle-of-the-road U.S. senator who fights for the middle class and veterans and would prevent extremist policies if re-elected.

Defeating Hagan is considered key for Republicans to take back control of the U.S. Senate in 2015. More than $15 million already has been spent in the race by candidates and outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Primary turnout was nearly 16 percent of registered voters, the State Board of Elections reported, higher than the 14 percent recorded during the midterm 2010 primary.

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