Former Shelby, N.C. Mayor Ted Alexander (R) will join the crowded GOP field to take on Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Politics is purple in North Carolina MORE (D-N.C.).

"It's an inner tugging that you feel God's compelled you to do it," Alexander told the Shelby Star, adding that he'd officially annouce his decision Monday afternoon. "I just had to be obedient to go ahead and do that. It's something internal that I knew I had to do it now. I think our country is now in a very critical stage in its life. There are things I've learned over the years that I think could help our state, as well as our country, during this time."

Alexander is the latest entrant into a crowded primary field, and starts out at a deficit both in organization and name identification to his opponents.

He will face off against North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), the favorite of establishment Republicans, as well as Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon (R), who has Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) support. Baptist Minister Mark Harris (R), nurse Heather Grant (R) and radio host Bill Flynn (R) are also running.

Hagan is a top GOP target, and Washington Republicans are hoping Tillis can win the primary without much trouble. But candidates need to reach 40 percent of the vote to avoid a primary runoff in North Carolina, and as the field gets more crowded that becomes more difficult for anyone to accomplish. A runoff could prove expensive and weaken the eventual nominee against Hagan, and both Brannon and Harris have shown their potential to win support in the primary.

Polls show Hagan is neck-and-neck with most of her little-known GOP opponents in the Republican-leaning state.