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Hagan Gets First Serious Republican Challenger

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is widely seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in 2014. So far, no top-tier Republican had announced for the seat. That has changed now that Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina house, has thrown his hat in the ring. Normally, when one of the highest ranking Republicans in a state enters a contest, it scares off other challengers, but that is not going to happen here.

Tillis' problem is that he is a moderate in a party where "moderate" has become a dirty word. Little-known physician Greg Brannon, a tea party favorite, is also in the race, and has already started attacking Tillis, saying he would bring the mess he made in North Carolina to Washington. In addition, there is a grass roots movement to draft Rev. Mark Harris, the pastor of a megachurch in Charlotte. If Harris runs, he might be able to get the endorsement of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and/or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. These endorsements would make him the tea party favorite and could propel him to the nomination.

Observers have started pointing out examples where a tea party candidate beat the establishment candidate in the Republican primary and what happened next. On the one hand, there are senatorial candidates Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, and Ken Buck, who beat establishement candidates and then lost general elecion contests that had previously looked like easy Republican pickups. On the other hand, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also defeated moderates in primaries or conventions and then went on to win. The difference, however, is they all won in deep red states where Yellow Dog (R) would win the general election in a landslide, analogous to the old Yellow dog Democrats. North Carolina has become a purple state, so if the Republicans nominate an extreme conservative, Hagan's chances to survive will shoot up.

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