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Polls: Thom Tillis gaining upper hand in GOP primary

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Updated 10:45 p.m.

GREENSBORO — With the Republican primary for U.S. Senate less than a week away, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis may have the support to avoid a runoff in his bid to take on Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat.

Tillis needs to get more than 40 percent of the vote on Tuesday to become the Republican candidate — a high threshold in a primary that drew eight candidates all vying to unseat the vulnerable Hagan.

But after months of very close polls, a new survey from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling finds Tillis at 46 percent. Dr. Greg Brannon, a Cary OB-GYN who is a Tea Party favorite, has been Tillis’ fiercest opponent in the primary. Brannon got 20 percent in the new poll.

Last month, the same poll found Tillis at 18 percent and Brannon at 15 percent — a slim divide that fell within the poll’s margin of error.

In the new poll, the Rev. Mark Harris got 11 percent; Heather Grant 5 percent; Jim Snyder 3 percent; Edward Kryn and Ted Alexander each got 2 percent; and Alex Bradshaw got 1 percent.

Between this month and last, voters have had plenty of opportunity to compare the candidates, from three televised debates between Tillis, Brannon, Harris and Grant to a deluge of television, radio, Internet and direct-mail advertising.

Tillis has had an overwhelming advantage in advertising, according to Public Policy Polling. The survey found that 80 percent of likely primary voters reported seeing his ads in the last few weeks. Only 28 percent reported seeing ads for Brannon and 27 percent for Harris.

According to an Elon University poll released Thursday, 63 percent of registered voters polled said they’ve heard of Tillis. Twenty-six percent said they had heard of Harris, and 21 percent had heard of Brannon.

Tillis also picked up some high-profile endorsements this week.

On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory officially endorsed Tillis. He had already told reporters he believes Tillis is the candidate most likely to unseat Hagan, a quote Tillis’ campaign had been using in advertising even before the official endorsement.

On Thursday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Tillis.

Bush, governor from 1996 to 2002, son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, has been much discussed as a GOP candidate for president in 2016.

“Thom Tillis is a proven conservative leader with an impressive track record of results for North Carolina businesses and families,” Bush said in a prepared statement. “His work on key issues like improving education, keeping taxes low and eliminating burdensome regulations is a testament to his leadership as North Carolina’s House speaker. It is critically important that Republicans win a majority in the U.S. Senate, and I am confident that the road to a majority runs through Thom Tillis in North Carolina.”

Tillis campaign manager Jordan Shaw said Thursday the campaign is honored to have the endorsements but isn’t putting too much stock in polls.

“I think it shows we definitely have the momentum,” Shaw said. “But honestly, the only poll that matters is going to happen on Tuesday.”

Shaw said Tillis is taking nothing for granted and is prepared for a July runoff if it comes to that.

“If we get more than 40 percent, then it will allow us to focus all our energy on Kay Hagan much sooner. But we realize that’s a high bar when you’ve got eight candidates in a primary.”

“We’re prepared for anything,” Shaw said.


Posted 12:02 p.m.

The latest Elon University Poll is out and has reaffirmed what politicos have suspected in recent weeks. Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, has developed more name recognition than other Republican frontrunners in their bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

The Mecklenburg County lawmaker faces seven other candidates for the GOP nomination Tuesday.

According to the poll, 63 percent of registered voters had heard of Tillis — way beyond competitors the Rev. Mark Harris (26 percent) from Charlotte and Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon (21 percent).

Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.

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Previous coverage of the U.S. Senate race. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, faces competition this year.

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