ATLANTA (AP) — Establishment Republican Thom Tillis' victory in the Senate primary in North Carolina has spurred both sides to draw battle lines that could frame Senate races across the nation.
After dispatching several tea party and Christian-right rivals on Tuesday, Tillis quickly cast Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan as an acolyte of President Barack Obama. Hagan countered just as fast, painting the speaker of the North Carolina House as the face of Republican extremism.
It's a strategic model that could help determine who controls the Senate after November, with similar themes playing out in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky. Whether Republicans can gain the six seats required to control the 100-member chamber will have an impact on Obama's influence during his final two years in the White House as well as his legacy.
Hagan is one of the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents, in part because she voted with Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid on health care, fiscal issues and more.
"Kay Hagan and Harry Reid are nothing but an echo chamber for President Obama's worst ideas," Tillis told supporters Tuesday night, moments after drawing about 46 percent of the vote, eclipsing the 40 percent required to win without a runoff.
The return fire was swift, stinging and extensive. Hagan described Tillis' North Carolina as a place where voting is harder, health care for women is less available, and fewer state dollars are spent on education.
"Speaker Tillis," Hagan said in a statement, "cut public education by nearly $500 million, killed equal pay legislation, defunded Planned Parenthood, gutted unemployment insurance for 170,000 people and rejected health care for 500,000 North Carolinians" by not expanding Medicaid under Obama's health care law. State Republicans also made it harder to vote and refused teacher pay raises, said Hagan, who called herself the only candidate in the race who will represent North Carolinians.