Tillis win kicks off high-profile Senate race in Tar Heel state

Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon

Thom Tillis took the Republican Senate nomination in North Carolina on Tuesday night, easily gaining more than the 40 percent he needed to avoid a runoff and face incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in November.

Tillis' victory sets up one of most high-profile, tightest Senate races of 2014.

The night's outcome will be widely seen as a victory for the Republican establishment, although everyone in the race was, by most measures, a conservative. Tillis, the state House speaker, has a long record of conservative legislation. It was as much about whether the party's more traditional fundraising apparatus and business groups could back a primary winner, especially in the Senate race's much higher ad spending.

His primary win was coupled with other North Carolina congressional primaries in which tea party challenges fell short. Incumbent Rep. Walter Jones ,who was challenged in the 3rd District, moved on to the general election, as did David Rouzer in a bid for the Republican-leaning open seat in the 7th District.

Tillis has been polling about even with Hagan in what surveys there are so far. We can already see the contours of this one: Hagan and the Democrats will look to paint Tillis as too conservative, not just to try to persuade moderates, but also as a rallying point for Democratic base turnout. Without that base, a midterm electorate would otherwise be tilted in the GOP's favor. Tillis, as with fellow Republican Senate nominees in other red states, will try to tie Hagan to an unpopular president and health care law.

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    Anthony Salvanto, Ph.D is CBS News Director of Elections and Surveys. He oversees all polling across the nation, states and congressional races, and heads the CBS News Decision Desk that estimates outcomes on Election Nights. He is the author of "Where Did You Get This Number: A Pollster's Guide to Making Sense of the World," from Simon & Schuster, and appears regularly across all CBS News platforms. His scholarly research and writings cover topics on polling methodology, voting behavior, and sampling techniques.