WASHINGTON – The victory of Thom Tillis in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina is widely seen as a win for the GOP establishment over the tea party.
But establishment is a relative term these days as the GOP’s internal divisions have pushed the Republican Party to the right.
At a time when the Tar Heel State took a decidedly hard right turn, it remains to be seen just how much a mainstream Republican Tillis is.
Setting the narrative for both Tillis, the speaker of the State House, and his opponent in November, endangered Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, will become a high-stakes war of words in what could become the most politically brutal race in the battle for control of the Senate.
A chorus of Republican leaders, from former presidential candidate Mitt Romney to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, backed Tillis over the tea party favorite. They preferred Tillis’ legislative record to the absence of one from conservative newcomer Greg Brannon, a gynecologist and father of seven with a libertarian streak who was backed by GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Tillis, though, is hardly a bipartisan pragmatist in the old-school GOP style. He is a conservative Republican leader who, according to his campaign, wants to “shrink” government, believes “the traditional family is the bedrock of America’s culture” and calls Obamacare a “cancer” to repeal.
Under his watch, North Carolina has enacted strict new voting laws and refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Even before his election night victory Tuesday, Hagan’s campaign team had begun distributing a dossier that portrays Tillis’ record of “fringe” positions as it prepares to re-elect the first-term Democrat.
The fight is bound to become rough. Outside groups led by Americans for Prosperity, the group aligned with the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, has already poured in $7 million to tell voters about Hagan’s record. The Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC has spent half as much.
In an email to supporters after he won the party nomination Tuesday, Tillis seemed up for the fight, writing: “It begins tonight.”