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Tillis' 48.87 percent is lowest winning total in North Carolina history

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east photo with otr 11-5-14

John East was elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina in 1980 with 49.96 percent of the vote.

Thom Tillis is not the first North Carolina candidate to win a U.S. Senate seat with less than half the vote.

But his 48.87 percent is the lowest in state history.

In 1980, Republican challenger John East ousted first-term Democratic Sen. Robert Morgan, 49.96 percent to 49.38 percent.

East was a little-known political science professor from East Carolina University who was heavily supported by Jesse Helms' Congressional Club. He hammered Morgan for supporting the treaty that returned control of the Panama Canal to Panama. During his term in the Senate, he followed Helms' lead on most issues.

East decided not to seek re-election in 1986 and died by suicide in June of that year. He remains one of North Carolina's most enigmatic political figures.

Popular election of U.S. senators began after 1913. From then until 1972, Democrats dominated statewide elections in North Carolina, with Senate candidates winning by large margins.

Since Helms' first win in 1972, most Senate elections have been close. Republican Lauch Faircloth won just 50.35 percent of the vote in defeating first-term Democrat Terry Sanford in 1992.

Tillis has set a new low in terms of winning percentage.

Addendum: If we used Louisiana rules, we'd be heading for a runoff next month -- time to spend another $20 million or so.

Thank goodness, it's all over here.

Contact editorial writer Doug Clark at (336) 373-7039 and dgclark@News-Record.com.

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