(CNN) — In the intraparty battle for the GOP, score Round 1 for the Republican establishment over the tea party.
CNN projects that North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis has won the state’s GOP Senate primary. Tillis, who was backed by many mainstream Republicans, topped 40% of the primary vote Tuesday, avoiding a runoff in July.
Tillis beat a bunch of more conservative candidates for the chance to face off this November against first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who is considered very vulnerable in the general election. Flipping her seat and five others held by Democrats would give Republicans control of the Senate.
In his victory speech, Tillis slammed Hagan’s record, tying her to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and calling them “an echo chamber for President Obama’s worst ideas.”…
…Trailing Tillis is tea party activist Greg Brannon. He enjoyed the support of many tea party groups, other influential conservative organizations and endorsements from the likes of Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who joined Brannon on Monday at a rally in Charlotte.
Mark Harris, a prominent Baptist minister who helped drive the 2012 passage of a constitutional amendment that strengthened the state’s same-sex marriage ban, is on his way to a third-place finish. Harris was backed by a high-profile fellow pastor, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate who may run again in 2016.
Since the birth of the tea party movement in 2009, primary challenges from the right have produced major headlines and headaches for the GOP and hurt the party’s chances of winning back the Senate from Democrats in the past two election cycles. Candidates backed by the tea party movement and other grass-roots conservatives effectively cost the GOP five winnable Senate elections the past two cycles in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado, Indiana and Missouri….
….Two weeks later, on June 3, the establishment-vs.-tea party faceoff shifts to Mississippi, which is one of eight states holding primaries that day. Six-term Sen. Thad Cochran is facing a serious challenge from state lawmaker Chris McDaniel, but private polling indicates the incumbent has a comfortable lead…