The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Senate bids begin

Five Republican candidates are now officially in the running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan next year — and more GOP hopefuls could join the crowded primary field in the near future.

Currently in the race for Hagan’s Senate seat are Republicans Thom Tillis, Mark Harris, Greg Brannon, Bill Flynn and Heather Grant.

A new poll by left-leaning Public Policy Polling found that Hagan is basically tied with her Republican competitors — with the exception of Flynn, who recently entered the race and wasn’t included in the polling data.

Hagan has a two- or three-point edge on most of the candidates and trails Brannon by a point, the poll found. Her approval rating stands at 44 percent.

James Cain, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark who works at a Raleigh law firm, and Lynn Wheeler, former Charlotte City Council member, could also potentially join the race, said Mitch Kokai, spokesman for the John Locke Foundation, in an email.

Kokai said Tillis enjoys an automatic advantage because of the name recognition associated with his position as speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives.

“That means he will be the one candidate to enjoy the benefits associated with being an incumbent officeholder who has dealt with potential supporters and donors from across the state,” he said.

Tillis is now leading the growing Republican primary, Public Policy Polling found.

And despite Tillis’ lack of experience running a statewide campaign, his political leadership role will allow him to secure funds crucial to a long-term campaign, Kokai said.

Brannon, a gynecologist from Cary, and Flynn, a Winston-Salem-based radio host who entered the race last weekend, are both branding themselves as tea party members to appeal to the most conservative faction of the GOP.

Harris, a Baptist pastor in Charlotte, is going to focus on the evangelical Christian base and socially conservative themes. Grant, the lone female GOP hopeful, worked for four years in the Army Military Corps.

The election is becoming a competition between Tillis and candidates who are branding themselves as “anti-Tillis,” Kokai said.

He added that it will work to Tillis’ advantage if more candidates enter the race.

“If he can secure more than 40 percent of the primary vote while the other candidates split 60 percent of the vote, he’ll be the Republican nominee,” Kokai said.

The N.C. Democratic Party’s overall strategy is to emphasize to voters why decisions made by Republican state legislators on education, health care and taxes are contrary to the state’s values, said party spokesman Ben Ray.

Ray said the party plans to focus on job creation for the middle class and building support for the Student Loan Reform Act and Hire a Hero program — issues Hagan has been involved in during her time in the Senate.

But the N.C. Republican Party has found grounds for criticizing for her support on the Affordable Care Act, which has been publicly scrutinized in the past few weeks.

Peter McClelland, chairman of the UNC College Republicans, said in an email that Hagan continues to support the health care law despite evidence that many North Carolinians will lose insurance plans.

“Obamacare has hurt the American people, and Sen. Hagan has been an ardent supporter of it from the beginning,” he said.

Kokai said if Republicans manage to unseat Democratic incumbents, they could use their majority to block President Barack Obama’s remaining legislative agenda.

“The GOP almost certainly needs to win in North Carolina to have any kind of shot of taking over the Senate.”

state@dailytarheel.com

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