By David Espo
WASHINGTON: North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis captured the Republican nomination to oppose imperiled Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday night, overcoming anti-establishment rivals by a comfortable margin in the first of a springtime spate of primaries testing the strength of a tea party movement that first rocked the GOP four years ago.
In Ohio, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald won the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. John Kasich in the fall, while U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, rolled to re-nomination for another term in Congress, his 13th.
On a night that was kind to Republican incumbents in three states, GOP Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana easily fended off a challenge from the right, rolling up 75 percent of the votes in a three-way race.
Anti-war Republican Rep. Walter Jones defeated his challenger in North Carolina.
In North Carolina, Tillis was winning about 45 percent of the vote with ballots counted in 61 percent of the state’s precincts, easily surpassing the 40 percent to avoid a July runoff. Greg Brannon was trailing despite support from tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Mark Harris, a Baptist pastor, was third.
Also in North Carolina, former American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken had a narrow lead as he sought the Democratic nomination to oppose Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers in the fall. A Democratic runoff was possible.
Democratic State Rep. Alma Adams was comfortably ahead for two nominations at the same time: in a special election to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Mel Watt, and also for the November ballot in the heavily Democratic district.
Tuesday marked the beginning of the political primary season in earnest, and over the next several months Republicans will hold numerous contests featuring incumbents or other establishment figures against tea party challengers.
Some of the races are in states where the identity of the party’s candidate might mean the difference between victory and defeat this fall, such as Alaska, Georgia, Iowa and Kentucky.
In other areas, it will matter less, including Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Hagan, whom Republicans have made a top target in their drive to win a Senate majority in the fall, won renomination over two rivals with about 80 percent of the primary vote.
Boehner’s nomination to a 13th term in the House was never in doubt, despite challenges from tea party adherents J.D. Winteregg and Eric Gurr.
His seat is safely Republican for the general election, as well, and it will be up to fellow Republicans — assuming they hold their House majority — to decide if the 64-year-old Ohioan serves a third term as speaker.
Kasich was unopposed for nomination to a second term as governor, a race viewed as a possible prelude to a 2016 run for the White House.
Fitzgerald wasted no time in pocketing his primary triumph, blasting out an email that declared, “As of tonight, this race is officially between me and Gov. Kasich.”