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National GOP still trying to recruit an opponent for Hagan

UPDATED: 3:11 p.m.: Word on street is that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is in Raleigh on a recruiting trip to find an opponent for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan next year.

The GOP operative is talking with Senate leader Phil Berger and Congresswoman Renee Ellmers or at least their people, to see if they have an interest in running next year. Berger confirmed to Dome he met with NRSC representatives Tuesday morning.

The scouting trip suggests that the national party is not yet completely sold on House Speaker Thom Tillis, the major GOP candidate who has announced his candidacy.

That was reflected in a blog by former NRSC consultant Jim Ellis who wrote Monday that North Carolina was one of three Senate races that "show some promise for Republicans but are regarded as major candidate recruiting disappointments.''

"Sen. Kay Hagan should be on the top of the vulnerability list, but she's not,'' Ellis writes. "Republicans didn't draw a top-tier challenge candidate, but we'll see if state House Speaker Thom Tillis' campaign can develop. Considering the legislature's poor approval ratings, Tillis has an even steeper hill to climb to position himself for victory.''

Berger said after talking to NRSC strategists that he is no closer to making a decision, but expects to make up his mind by the end of the month. He declined to go into detail about the conversation or his thinking. "I have not made a decision as of yet," he said.

What the national parties think is important because the North Carolina Senate race is likely to be nationalized, with tens of millions of dollars poured into the race by the national parties and by third party groups in the battle for control of the Senate.

Ellmers, a former nurse from Dunn who was re-elected to a second term, has said she will made an announcement shortly. Berger has not announced his plans, but as the most powerful figure in state government, most observers see him as leaning against a Senate bid.

The polling number suggest that Tillis has yet to catch fire. Some Tea Party Republicans don't like his more moderate, business-oriented conservatism, and others have been put off by his aggressive fund raising tactics.

Greg Brannon, a Cary physician and Tea Party activist, has entered the race. Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor, Jim Cain, a Raleigh attorney and former U.S. ambassador, and former Charlotte City Councilwoman Lynn Wheeler are considering the race.

--Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report


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