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Scott Mooneyham: Tillis fights both Hagan, GOP opponents in primary

By Scott Mooneyham

Syndicated columnist

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RALEIGH — Thom Tillis has a problem.

Tillis is running in a primary this spring. So is Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democratic U.S. senator whom he hopes to eventually unseat.

Tillis, the Republican state House speaker and former business consultant, is running against a crowded field that includes two opponents, Cary physician Greg Brannon and Charlotte pastor Mark Harris, who present significant challenges.

Hagan is running against Tillis.

That is his problem.

Tillis is having to fend off both his primary opponents and Hagan before he can ever get to a general election campaign.

As the days tick off and May 6 primary nears, it becomes less likely that he will reach the necessary 40-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

It is now no secret that Hagan, her campaign and the national Democratic Party would prefer to knock off Tillis now.

Hagan’s campaign recently began airing a radio spot attacking Tillis regarding a shakeup on his House staff after two aides had extramarital affairs with lobbyists.

That radio spot followed a TV ad sponsored by the political action committee of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid highlighting the same scandal. The ad’s concluding words were aimed more at Republican primary voters than at the swing voters who will decide the general election. Those words: “Thom Tillis: Spending our money to clean up his mess.”

Even if Tillis ultimately wins the GOP nomination, Democrats could force his campaign to spend more money and divert his attention from the general election if a runoff is required. In a runoff, he becomes more vulnerable in a smaller turnout race that promises a more activist flavor.

The Tillis campaign is already attempting to turn Hagan’s attention on him to their advantage with a fund-raising pitch.

His campaign may well have an ad in the works warning GOP voters that Hagan is trying to shape the outcome of the race, and that her focus on him offers up proof that he represents the best opportunity to unseat her.

That view is already prevalent among many Republican Party insiders, particularly those who have been fighting the political wars in North Carolina for a while. The conservative GOP electorate may see it differently, though.

Both Brannon and Harris are seen as more conservative. Brannon, with his tea party ties, has run as an anti-establishment candidate.

He’s also the candidate who has increasingly been compared to Todd Akin in Missouri.

Akin is the former congressman and social conservative who won the Missouri Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2012, beating two candidates with more establishment credentials. He won that primary only to lose to Democrat Claire McCaskill.

The McCaskill campaign ran three ads in the final days before the primary aimed at each of the three Republicans. The one “targeting” Akin concluded, “Missouri’s true conservative is just too conservative.”

Want to know who is the media consultant for Hagan’s campaign? Yep, it is the same outfit that directed McCaskill’s.

Capitol Press Association