Signs are strong that the winner of Tuesday's North Carolina GOP Senate primary will be Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House of Representatives and candidate of the so-called GOP "establishment."
Under the Tarheel State's election law, a candidate has to win a minimum of 40 percent of the vote plus one to become the nominee outright. Should none of the eight GOP contenders in the primary reach the magic 40 percent, then the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff in mid-July.
A survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP) last week found Tillis with 46 percent of the GOP vote — more than double that of his closest Republican rival.
Choosing a nominee Tuesday without two more months of rancorous infighting is crucial to the Republican effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. Avoiding a runoff means the Republican gunfire will be aimed at Hagan, a consistent supporter of Obamacare and a narrow winner over Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008.
"Thom Tillis will win the primary outright, and he will win decisively," veteran North Carolina GOP media strategist Marc Rotterman predicted to Newsmax on Sunday. "And this will make North Carolina 'ground zero' in the battle for the Republican majority in the Senate."
Republicans need to pick up six seats to gain control of the Senate.
With polls showing Tillis the front-runner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, and the National Right to Life Committee have all weighed in for him.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have also strongly endorsed Tillis.
In addition, Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC has deployed more than $1.6 million in an independent effort on behalf of Tillis, who is frequently dubbed "the establishment candidate" by his two major opponents.
Obstetrician Greg Brannon, who placed second in the PPP poll with 20 percent, has the strong endorsement of several tea party groups and of Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. TV talk show host Glenn Beck has also boosted Brannon's candidacy.
But the physician-candidate has been dogged by reports of a court judgment requiring him to pay two investors more than $450,000 for providing misleading information about a company startup.
The other significant opponent to Tillis is Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor considered an excellent radio and television commentator. Harris, who placed third with 11 percent in the PPP poll, was a major player in enactment of North Carolina's amendment banning same-sex marriage and has the backing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
A just completed Elon University poll released May 1 showed only 35 percent of likely voters surveyed approve of Hagan while 47 percent disapprove.
In recent weeks, both Hagan and the Democrats' Senate Majority Political Action Committee have run radio salvos slamming Tillis. The tactic is hauntingly familiar to the attack broadsides launched by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's political action committee in 2010 against a candidate he reportedly considered a tough Republican to beat. The Republican nomination instead went to controversial GOP hopeful Sharron Angle, who went on to lose in November to Reid in the Nevada Senate race.
Two years ago, Reid and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill used similar advertising to boost the candidacy of Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri's three-candidate Republican primary. Akin won the primary, but after making widely attacked statements on rape, lost in November.
Based on their "early bird" attacks on the front-runner, it seems at the very least that Hagan and Reid want Tillis to go through two more months of fighting for the nomination. Whether he has to or emerges as the nominee outright will be the major political story coming from North Carolina on Tuesday.
The North Carolina primary begins a major month for selecting nominees for the Senate, Congress, and governorships across the nation.
Following Tuesday's contest will be primaries for important nominations in key states: Nebraska on May 13; Kentucky and Georgia on May 20; and runoffs in Texas on May 27, with attention being focused on the GOP runoff in the Fourth Congressional District between 91-year-old Rep. Ralph Hall and former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe.
These races could offer clues as to whether Republicans will opt for "tea party"-approved contenders for major office, or turn to traditional "establishment" Republicans.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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