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WHAT TO WATCH IN NORTH CAROLINA TODAY
Probably the easiest place for Republicans to unseat a Democratic Senate incumbent this year is in North Carolina. Sen. Kay Hagan won on long-vanished Obama coattails in 2008 and her state party has been on a downward trend for all of her six years in office. But what looks like a lay-down hand for Republicans will depend on the primary vote today. If no candidate gets above 40 percent, the GOP primary field will shrink to today’s top two finishers and rage on until July 15. The race has already been ugly and the runoff, which would be aimed at an even smaller, more conservative electorate, would offer hope to Hagan. What the candidates would have to say, spend and do to win with the base of the GOP base would provide ample fodder for Democrats to use to turn off more moderate suburban voters who are the key to victory in November. Look at it this way: If the GOP primary ends today, national Democrats will begin to write off Hagan, starving her of money and resources. If the GOP fight continues, the billionaire Democratic donor corps and the biggest political action committees on the left will be enticed to keep funding the pro-Hagan effort. So what should you be looking for as the election unfolds?
The players - There hasn’t been much reliable polling in the race, but establishment favorite State House Speaker Thom Tillis was the frontrunner going into the vote. He’s a former businessman who has the support of the state’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and national party leaders, including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The sketchy polling picture in the race shows Tillis hovering just at the 40 percent threshold, setting up a nail-biter finish tonight. His chief rival is obstetrician Greg Brannon, who proudly embraces the Tea Party banner and got a last-minute campaign boost from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who campaigned for him in Charlotte on Monday. The other main contender seems to be Rev. Mark Harris, a social conservative who has trumpeted the backing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The goal for Brannon and Harris today isn’t to win outright so much as force a runoff in which the second place finisher can inflict deeper damage on Tillis.