The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

McCrory: Tillis is most viable GOP challenger to Hagan

Pat McCrory speaks to supporters at his election night headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 6, 2012, after being elected governor of North Carolina as his wife, Ann, looks on. (Chuck Burton/AP)

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) hasn't made an endorsement in the GOP primary to face Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). But he does see one of the candidates as the most electable.

McCrory, in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, said that candidate is state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R).

"I think Tillis has the best chance to win a general election," McCrory said. "From a political perspective, there's no doubt in my mind that Tillis has the best chance to win in the general election. I think you can see that in the attacks from D.C. going after Tillis."

Tillis faces a primary with a tea party-aligned obstetrician, Greg Brannon, among other lesser-known candidates. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has endorsed Brannon, though national tea party groups have yet to fully embrace his campaign.

A recent poll shows Tillis and Brannon running close to one another in the May 6 primary.

GOP establishment groups have been supportive of Tillis, with American Crossroads recently launching a $1.1 million ad campaign on his behalf.

Hagan is a top GOP target, with the conservative group Americans for Prosperity attacking her with $7 million worth of ads early in the 2014 election cycle.

Tillis and McCrory have worked together closely, given their positions. But they haven't always agreed.

Tillis expressed disappointment in McCrory in August, for example, after McCrory vetoed a bill that would have allowed social service workers to drug test welfare applicants.

Update 2:26 p.m.: Brannon campaign manager Reilly O'Neill responds: “Basing electability on which candidate is attacked most is foolish. The same strategy of using attacks to boost the weakest general election opponent was successfully used by Claire McCaskill against Todd Akin in Missouri. Like Todd Akin, Thom Tillis repeatedly polls at the back of the Republican field when matched up against Hagan.  Senator Hagan must be 'chomping at the bit' to go up against Thom Tillis.”