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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A leading establishment candidate edged out several other opponents in his Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, keeping more radical and anti-LGBT candidates off November’s general election ballot.

The Associated Press called the primary race for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis shortly before 9:30 p.m. The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ reporting website had experienced some reporting glitches but with 1533 of 2651 precincts reporting, Tillis apparently had garnered 45 percent of the primary vote, with leading challengers Greg Brannon carrying 28 percent, Mark Harris with 18 percent and Heather Grant with 5 percent.

All the leading candidates in the primary had espoused anti-LGBT views, but it was Mark Harris, pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, who most concerned LGBT community members.

A former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, Harris was an outspoken proponent for the state’s 2012 anti-LGBT constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. Harris was a founding member of the Vote for Marriage NC referendum committee and was endorsed by the National Organization for Marriage, a significant supporter of the amendment effort.

During his campaign, Harris has portrayed himself as a “conservative Christian” candidate and a defender of “traditional” and “family” values. He mentions his involvement in the amendment campaign on his website.

“I believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and was a founding member of the ‘Vote for Marriage NC’ campaign,” Harris says. “I will not compromise on the issues of family values.”

Tillis anti-gay, too

Though Tillis is perceived as more moderate, he, too, has an anti-LGBT record.

As speaker of the North Carolina House, Tillis presided over sessions which considered and then approved the addition of the anti-LGBT amendment to a May 8, 2012, ballot. The measure, which Tillis said he supported, was passed by 61 percent of voters.

Tillis made waves among conservatives when speaking to students at North Carolina State University a month before the ballot initiative. At the time, Tillis said he thought the amendment would pass, as it did, but that it would eventually be overturned.

“It’s a generational issue,” Tillis said. “If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years.”

Yet, in an ad shortly before the primary, Tillis spoke out what it means to “be conservative.”

“Take the issue of traditional marriage,” Tillis said in the ad. “Plenty of politicians talk about. After I became speaker, we put it in the constitution,” as the image of a newspaper headline announcing the passage of the anti-LGBT amendment.

Tillis and Hagan matched for November

Tillis now goes on to face incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in November. Outside organizations and Tillis have already spent heavily, buying ads attacking Hagan for her support of the Affordable Care Act.

Of all the Republican primary candidates, Tillis was also considered the most formidable candidate to run against Hagan.

During the primary campaign, Hagan had already bought ads attacking Tillis.

A hoped-for Republican primary run-off would have provided extra room for Hagan, but with Tillis’ clear win Tuesday, the two now go face-to-face.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.