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Running on promises, Kay Hagan's link to Obama, Thom Tillis wins NC Senate race

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — Thom Tillis ran for the U.S. Senate in part on the accomplishments he said the Republicans in charge of North Carolina's General Assembly pledged to complete while he was House speaker. Now he'll get the chance to show whether he can get things done he promised on the campaign trail in Washington.

Tillis unseated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday, narrowly winning a race that attracted more than $100 million in spending from the candidates and outside groups and that proved to clinch the Senate majority for the GOP.

The suburban Charlotte resident won after spending months linking Hagan to President Barack Obama on policies from the president's signature health care law to the Islamic State militants. He's said he'll work to get rid of the health care law and pressure Obama to direct a more forceful and vigorous national security policy.

"I knew that you all and North Carolinians want elected officials that are going to go to Washington to get something done and to fulfill our promises," Tillis said early Wednesday to supporters in Charlotte after Hagan called to congratulate him.

With almost 2.9 million votes counted, unofficial returns showed Tillis with 49 percent of the vote compared to 47 percent for Hagan, a margin of about 46,000 votes. Libertarian Sean Haugh recorded almost 4 percent in one of the party's best showings ever for his party's statewide candidate in North Carolina.

Tillis, an architect of the GOP takeover of North Carolina state government, defeated the first-term incumbent Hagan, who unsuccessfully tried to turn the race into a referendum on Tillis' governance in Raleigh. Tillis overcame that by emphasizing cuts to tax rates and regulations and a large average pay raise for teachers last summer.

Although Tillis had to win an eight-candidate primary in May, his announced candidacy 18 months ago had the state House speaker in the sights of Hagan's campaign and her allies ever since. These developments made the race the nation's most pricey Senate campaign, with candidates and outside groups spending $108 million, $77 million of which came from independent organizations supporting or opposing the candidates, The Sunlight Foundation said.

While Tillis was vastly outspent by Hagan, conservative super PACs and national Republicans made up much of the difference.

PHOTO: Republican Senate candidate and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, left, and his wife, Susan, celebrate with supporters at an election night rally in Charlotte, N.C., early Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014 after defeating Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Republican Senate candidate and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, left, and his wife, Susan, celebrate with supporters at an election night rally in Charlotte, N.C., early Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014 after defeating Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

"We didn't bend. We won," Tillis told supporters.

Tillis contrasted legislative and fiscal policies he says he promised to complete when Republicans took over the legislature following the 2010 elections with what he considered Hagan's empty resume since being elected in 2008.

"Our work to improve the lives of North Carolinians and to build an economy that works for everyone isn't over," Hagan said late Tuesday in a concession speech that quoted the official state toast. "I have done my very best to give North Carolina the opportunity for every North Carolinian to grow both strong and great." She left the stage to hug employees and supporters who'd lingered after word of her defeat to hear her farewell.

Tillis said Hagan broke her promises by siding with Obama more than 95 percent of the time when just six years earlier, Hagan had criticized then-Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole for being too closely aligned with President George W. Bush.

Tillis withstood a barrage of ads from Hagan and allies repeatedly accusing him of cutting income tax rates to benefit the wealthy, slashing public education funding and refusing to expand Medicaid to the working poor. She also blamed Tillis for an elections overhaul law that cut the number of early-voting days and eliminated same-day registration during the period.

The victory completes a quick rise through state politics for Tillis, 54, a former consultant at IBM Global Business Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He first joined the Cornelius town commission in the early 2000s and was elected to the state House in 2006. He became speaker after the 2010 elections put Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature for the first time in 140 years.

Tillis won the election despite failing to win the most votes in the seven largest counties by the number of votes cast, including his home county of Mecklenburg, where Hagan got 59 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Tillis performed well in suburban counties in the voter-rich Piedmont and traditional Republican strongholds in the foothills and mountains and made inroads Down East.


Associated Press writers Emery P. Dalesio in Greensboro, North Carolina and Allen Breed in Charlotte, North Carolina contributed to this report.

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Video:
PHOTO: Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis has defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan after a lengthy, expensive race in North Carolina. (Nov. 4)
Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis has defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan after a lengthy, expensive race in North Carolina. (Nov. 4)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., right, and her father Joe Ruthven react to supporters following Hagan's concession speech during an election night rally in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Click to view (6 Photos)

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