Thom Tillis and Greg Brannon (Photos: Thom Tillis for U.S. Senate / Greg Brannon for U.S. Senate)
With eight weeks to go before the May 6 primary, no clear leader has emerged in the crowded pack of Republicans looking to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
New numbers from Public Policy Polling find N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis tied with physician Greg Brannon at 14 percent. That signals a drop for Tillis, who last month led Brannon by 7 percentage points and was the top pick among GOP voters at 20 percent.
In this latest poll, Tillis and Brannon are followed by Heather Grant at 11 percent, along with Ted Alexander and Mark Harris both at 7 percent. Rounding out the field are Alex Bradshaw at 6 percent, Jim Snyder at 4 percent and Edward Kryn at 1 percent. More than a third of Republican voters – 36 percent – are still undecided on which contender they will support.
Brannon has recently faced negative headlines related to a court case in which he was found guilty of misleading investors in his startup company, an outcome he says he will appeal.
But he also has been able to tout endorsements from such tea party favorites as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, talk show host Glenn Beck and conservative columnist Ann Coulter. The support of those big names could keep Brannon competitive with Tillis, who is the perceived “Republican establishment” choice.
If no candidate is able to win at least 40 percent of the May 6 vote, the top two finishers will move on to a July runoff. Such a scenario could bode well for Hagan, forcing the Republicans to extend their primary fight and giving her more time to prepare for what is already shaping up to be a bruising election in the fall.
A similar situation played out in 2010, when the Democratic primary spilled into summer, en route to Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr winning re-election.
Hagan would likely welcome a drawn out Republican primary fight, as the new poll finds her essentially tied with each of her possible GOP challengers, even as her job approval is a net negative of 9 percent.
However, Hagan might take solace in the poll finding that while her Republican opponents are largely unknown among most North Carolina voters, those that do know of these GOP candidates have generally negative opinions of them. For instance, 45 percent of voters have no opinion of Tillis, but 41 percent view him unfavorably, compared to just 14 percent who have a positive opinion of him.
President Barack Obama may not be of much help to Hagan in her re-election bid, given that he polls worse among North Carolina voters than she does, with 55 percent disapproving of his job performance and 42 percent approving.
Tar Heel voters have warmed a bit to the Affordable Care Act, with 40 percent saying its implementation has been a success, compared to just 25 percent who said the same last month. However, with 54 percent of voters saying the health-care law’s enactment was unsuccessful – including 61 percent of independent voters – Republicans are sure to make it a central campaign theme.
Still, Hagan may have a helpful campaign issue of her own. The same survey finds 63 percent of voters opposed to eliminating the minimum wage (an idea seemingly contemplated by Tillis). And 59 percent are in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour from the current $7.25, including 81 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans.