CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The optimism exuded by Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis’ campaign and supporters Tuesday in the early evening, panned out later tonight when the challenger defeated the incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) in one of the tightest, most expensive races of the cycle.
The early vote totals showed Hagan leading but as the night wore on Tillis gained ground and as it became apparent that Tillis could win, his supporters — convened for an election night event with the candidate here at the Omni Charlotte Hotel — erupted in loud cheers and chants of “Thom! Thom! Thom!”
The Associated Press called the squeaker election for Tillis at 11:25 PM EST.
While Tillis, a Republican, trailed Hagan over the summer, the polls tightened through the fall to the point where there was hardly any daylight between the two candidates.
“He’s run an incredible campaign,” Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) said of state House Speaker Thom Tillis Tuesday night as the election results came in a brief interview with Breitbart News.
The Republican businessman from Cornelius ran a nationally focused election, attempting to tie Hagan to an unpopular President Obama. The polls narrowed as Tillis and his surrogates hammered Hagan for her apparent improprieties in office and her record of voting with Obama up to 99 percent of the time.
The incumbent kept her focus on making the election a referendum on Tillis and his job as a state House Speaker slamming him for what she called massive cuts to North Carolina education.
Hagan and her supporters took Tillis to task on Democratic hobby-horse issues such as pay equity, Planned Parenthood, contraception, and minimum wage.
Tillis’ campaign emphasized matters like Hagan’s poor attendance record on the Senate Armed Service Committee — including skipping an ISIS briefing to attend a New York City fundraiser– flip-flops on an Ebola travel ban, her Obamacare “lies,” and the fact that her family personally benefited from the 2009 stimulus.
While Obama did not appear in the state with Hagan — in fact she spent a good amount of time trying to distance herself from Obama until the last moments of the election when her campaign ran a radio ad featuring an Obama endorsement — she brought in such Democratic powerhouses as Hillary and Bill Clinton to campaign for her.
Tillis, considered by some conservatives during the GOP primary to be an “establishment” candidate, brought such Republicans in for his general election bid as former president Mitt Romney, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to the state.
The state’s senior senator, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) explained to Breitbart News before the final results came in the importance of Tillis’ election.
“It’s important to me because it means my vote doesn’t get cancelled every time I go to the Senate floor, but from the standpoint of the American people it means that with a majority that’s Republican we can work with the House to put legislation on the president’s desk. And that is what the president hasn’t seen because Harry Reid didn’t allow that process to take place,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told Breitbart News.
And while Hagan and Tillis were the two headliners there was also a wild card in the mix: Libertarian Sean Haugh, a pizza delivery man, also appeared on the ballot. As a Libertarian who ran to end all wars, legalize marijuana, and reduce the debt, there were question marks as to from who he would pull votes.
Both Tillis and Hagan supporters attempted to use his presence on the ballot as a way to tug votes away from one another — both at times advertising on Haugh’s behalf, focusing on those aspects of his candidacy that would appeal to the other side.
Tillis, who watched the returns come in at the Omni Charlotte Hotel with his family, is scheduled to speak later in the evening.