Polls show Tillis poised to avoid N.C. GOP primary runoff

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is holding a steady and substantial lead over his nearest challengers in two new surveys of the Republican Senate primary race there, and finally clears the 40-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff in one survey.

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In one poll, conducted by the right-leaning National Research, Inc. for the conservative Civitas Institute, Tillis takes 38 percent support among GOP likely voters, with his next-closest primary opponent, Physician Greg Brannon, taking 17 percent support.

Baptist Pastor Mark Harris takes 14 percent, and about a third of respondents said they still don’t know who they prefer as the Republican nominee.

The survey tracks closely with another poll out last week from Civitas that showed Tillis taking 39 percent support and Brannon taking 20 percent.

Another poll, out Tuesday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, gives Tillis 46 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, to Brannon's 20 percent and 11 percent for Harris. The rest of the candidates come in with single-digit support.

That was the first poll to show Tillis opening up such a wide lead over his GOP primary challengers, but that survey and the newest one both have shown him just shy of the 40 percent he’ll need to avoid a runoff in the May 6 primary.

National Republicans call Tillis the strongest contender to take on first-term Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in the general election, a top target for the GOP this fall as they try to win a majority in the Senate.

But the survey shows mixed news for Hagan.

A plurality, 48 percent, of likely voters prefer a generic Democratic Senate candidate over 38 percent which prefer a Republican. But Hagan is underwater in terms of her job approval, with 46 percent of registered voters disapproving of her performance in office, and about half say it's time to give someone new a chance in office. Still, the 38 percent that say she deserves reelection is the highest she's seen since January.

Tillis is already taking aim at Hagan, focusing largely on her in the GOP primary candidates' final televised debate on Monday night, while his primary opponents took aim at him.

Harris, according to the Associated Press, targeted Tillis for his previous comments on gay marriage and labeled him as "more in the Lindsey Graham, John McCain mode,” a reference to the South Carolina and Arizona Republicans who are generally persona non grata within the conservative movement.

And Brannon charged that Tillis hasn’t done enough during his time in the North Carolina legislature to battle ObamaCare.

But the Civitas survey may indicate Tillis' support in the primary is strong enough to withstand such attacks come next Tuesday.

The Civitas survey was conducted among 600 likely voters, including 210 Republicans, via landline and cell phone on April 19, 21 and 22, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The PPP survey was conducted among 694 likely Republican primary voters from April 26-28, via automated telephone interviews and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

—This piece was updated at 4:30 to reflect the PPP poll.

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