Chalk one up for the GOP Establishment.
Despite fears that he might be forced into a runoff with less than 40% of vote, Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the North Carolina House, won the GOP's Senate nomination handily on Tuesday night.
Tillis managed to beat Tea Party activist Greg Bannon, who rallied with Rand Paul the night before the election as well as social conservative Mark Harris by significant margins. Despite his arch conservative record leading the lower chamber of the North Carolina legislature, Tillis was attacked by Republican opponents as insufficiently conservative, particularly by Brannon who was described by Slate's Dave Weigel as someone who "never heard a question that couldn’t be answered with a constitutional citation."
His win, without a runoff, sets up a brutal six month general election campaign against first-term incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan in a contest that will be crucial to partisan control of the Senate in 2015. North Carolina has become one of the new swing states; Obama narrowly won it in 2008 but lost it by 2% in 2012. Currently the race is a dead heat in polls. With Democrats poised to lose Senate seats in states like South Dakota and West Virginia, the Tarheel State is an important firewall for Harry Reid to continue as Senate Majority Leader. Democrats already stormed out to attack Tillis early Tuesday night. In a statement, DNC Press Secretary Michael Czin called the GOP nominee "anti-middle class, unethical, and at the end of the day, unelectable. " In contrast, establishment Republicans like the Karl Rove-run superPAC American Crossroads and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney celebrated Tillis's win on Tuesday night as both parties dig in for what will likely be one of the closest Senate races of the cycle.