CORRECTION: A pervious version of this article misattributed a quote to John Dinan. The article has been corrected to reflect the proper attribution. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
The primary races for the N.C. Senate seat became more crowded Friday when two more candidates’ entries brought the total up to 13, but political analysts are still predicting easy primaries for incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan., D-N.C., and Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Backed by PAC money and a laundry list of accomplishments in the legislature in the last four years, Tillis is the only GOP candidate who has the funding to rival incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in the general election in November, said Mitch Kokai, political analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation.
The pool of 13 candidates is large, but the number of primaries will be of more interest to political observers. There will be a Libertarian primary in addition to a Republican and Democratic one.
“That number is larger than you would expect, but it is not unusual,” Kokai said. “There is a sense that Kay Hagan can be beaten and that is driving the competition. If you have a senator who is seen as a lock for re-election, there is little chance that anyone in their own party will run in the primary.”
Hagan’s low approval ratings have left her vulnerable to GOP challengers, especially after widespread criticism of the healthcare.gov rollout. But she faces no serious competition in her own party, Kokai said.
North Carolina traditionally votes senators out of office after their first term, and Hagan will also have to contend with the public’s fatigue after six years of a Democratic presidency, he said.
To challenge Hagan in the general election, the eight GOP candidates will have to compete for 40 percent of their party’s vote to win the primary in May.
“I think there is a chance that people will not have a clear idea of who they are voting for,” Kokai said. “On the Republican side, it basically looks like it will be a race between Thom Tillis and all of the other candidates who are vying to be the anti-Tillis. “
John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, said the large field of candidates will produce more campaign ads and ramp up voter turnout.
A February poll from Public Policy Polling found that Tillis is polling at 20 percent, the highest of the Republican candidates. Greg Brannon, the Tea Party candidate from Cary, and Heather Grant, a nurse practitioner, follow at 13 percent.
John Davis, an N.C. political analyst, said Brannon’s recent legal troubles might derail his campaign.
“Tillis has a long list of conservative gold medals hanging around his neck, and that’s going to be very impressive when he starts making his case in the last six weeks,” Davis said.
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