North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis captured the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday, overcoming antiestablishment rivals by a comfortable margin in the first of a springtime spate of primaries testing the strength of the tea party movement.
Tillis was winning about 45 percent of the vote with ballots counted in 60 percent of the state's precincts, easily surpassing the 40 percent needed 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.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, both had endorsed Tillis.
Also in North Carolina, former American Idol runnerup Clay Aiken had a narrow lead as he sought the Democratic nomination to oppose Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers. A Democratic runoff was possible.