Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. (Gerry Broome/AP)

Tuesday night didn’t go the way Kay Hagan had hoped.

North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis , widely regarded by political observers as the strongest potential challenger to Hagan (D) for her Senate seat, not only finished first in the Republican primary but avoided a possibly costly runoff by winning more than 40 percent of the vote.

Hagan — and national Democrats — had hoped that Tillis would have the same kinds of problems that other “establishment” Republicans experienced in 2010 and 2012 when faced with challenges from tea-party-backed candidates.

Hoping to spur on such a squabble, Hagan’s campaign paid for direct-mail pieces and radio ads targeting Republican voters and reminding them that Tillis had once called the Affordable Care Act “a great idea.” (Democratic senators such as Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) have successfully dabbled in GOP primaries to keep the most electable Republicans from becoming the nominees against them.)

But despite that spending — and the fact that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) endorsed his opponents — Tillis prevailed in convincing fashion.

So rather than spending the next two months in an ideological intraparty battle, Tillis — and national Republicans — are free to focus on Hagan.

North Carolina is a swing state, and the national political winds are blowing in the GOP’s favor, meaning that an already difficult race for Hagan, a freshman Democrat, just got harder. The day after the Republican primary, independent political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg moved the race into the “toss up” category. “Hagan does not have a significant advantage,” his Web site said.

Kay Hagan, for watching your narrow edge collapse overnight, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail Chris Cillizza at

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