2014-05-06T050650Z_1_CBREA450E7O00_RTROPTP_2_USA-NORTHCAROLINA-SENATE

Primaries offer test of Republican 'establishment' strength

Tillis attends a debate between the four top-polling Republican candidates in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate, at Davidson College in DavidsonBy John Whitesides WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in North Carolina will vote on Tuesday on their candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in November, in the first of several primaries this month that will test whether the party’s establishment can beat back challenges from Tea Party rivals. State House Speaker Thom Tillis, backed by party mainstream leaders and business groups, appears to have an edge over Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon and evangelical minister Mark Harris in North Carolina, but he needs 40 percent of the vote to avoid a costly July runoff with the second-place finisher. The showdown to determine who will take on vulnerable Democratic Senator Kay Hagan kicks off a month-long string of Republican primaries that could prove instrumental to the party’s efforts to retake control of the Senate in November.

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