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U.S. Senate primary, some contenders, some loons 

In the U.S senate gop primary, House Speaker Thom Tillis is the front-runner. But supporting Tillis means endorsing the legislative agenda enacted by the Republican-led General Assembly, a record we trust is embarrassing to moderate-thinking GOP voters.

Tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. Aid to public schools and the UNC system slashed. No pay raises for teachers or state employees—except Republican politicos. Our legislators punished people thrown out of work by the recession, cutting unemployment benefits so severely that North Carolina no longer qualified for federal aid to the long-term unemployed—the only state that was so mean-spirited. The General Assembly also rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, though it would've cost the state nothing while bringing in more than $2 billion a year from Washington to boost the state's economy. Voting rights, women's rights and LGBT rights were shredded.

Many Republicans will see this record as acceptable, of course, even admirable. Still, they should have trouble stomaching the way Tillis has hit up lobbyists for campaign contributions, which would be against the law if he were running for state office. And they should be disgusted that special interests getting goodies from state government are shoveling money his way, reviving the "pay to play" culture of corruption that Republicans rightly denounced when Democrats used to engage in it.

And for simple corruption, does it get any worse than Tillis handing $19,000 in taxpayer funds to two of his top aides after they were forced to resign? Resign because of revelations of their extra-marital affairs with—yes—lobbyists?

It's no surprise, then, that while the big-money Republican establishment has anointed Tillis as their candidate, four in five Republican voters remain unconvinced, according to the polls.

For tea party devotees, Dr. Greg Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, is a popular choice. Brannon's views are so far out, however, that we can't recommend him. He insists that every function of the federal government is unconstitutional except national defense and promoting trade—and as senator he would reject any budget with funds for other programs. You know, like Social Security.

Among evangelical Republicans, the Rev. Mark Harris is gaining ground. Harris, former head of the State Baptist Convention, led the campaign in 2012 for the egregious Amendment One, which added a prohibition against same-sex marriage and civil unions to the state constitution. Harris rejects Darwin and evolution. We can't recommend him either.

Five other candidates are running. We'd like to see moderate Republicans coalesce around one of them to register a desire for more centrist candidates in future Republican races. The only one whose good showing might make such a statement is former Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander.

True, Alexander isn't running as a moderate. Rather, he presents himself as a "bona fide conservative" who is anti-choice on abortion, against same-sex marriage and in favor of the full panoply of right-wing Republican bromides, including the old balanced-budget amendment. Still, he stops short of demanding that abortion be outlawed, saying adoption should be promoted instead.

The fact is, all eight candidates in this field are conservative, anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, anti-labor candidates. The one thing that distinguishes Alexander is that he's been a mayor, run a government and, by most accounts, ran it pretty well. Well enough to have been re-elected, anyway. He limited himself to two terms as mayor—eight years—and stepped down in 2011.

Alexander holds a master's degree in historic preservation from Cornell University and has directed Main Street revitalization programs in Virginia and North Carolina; he is currently western regional director for Preservation North Carolina, a respected nonprofit group.

Of the other four candidates, Alex Bradshaw actually recommends Ted Alexander as the most electable candidate in the GOP field. Jim Snyder, a lawyer who is past his prime, calls Jesse Helms his hero. Heather Grant is a nurse vying for tea party backing with Brannon. Edward Kryn is a retired physician vying with Brannon to be the most strident. Bradshaw is an open-source software developer who seems earnest, but his only political experience was in the 1996 Alan Keyes presidential campaign. That's right, Alan Keyes.

Democrat

Face it, when Kay Hagan, the incumbent, proudly claims the title of "the most moderate senator," it's natural for Democrats to be moderate, lukewarm or even (for some progressives) antagonistic about her candidacy. Our recommendation: Get over it. Hagan has a good record, though not great, and she will be the Democratic nominee in a race of critical importance nationally as well as in North Carolina.

A first-term senator, Hagan was an upset winner in 2008, unseating Republican Elizabeth Dole. Before that, Hagan served in the state Senate, where she was a pro-business centrist of the Jim Hunt variety. Remember how we used to think Jim Hunt was too conservative? What would we give to have Jim Hunt as governor now?

In Washington, Hagan has been the same cautious centrist she was in Raleigh, listening to the debates rather than leading them on issues from health care to immigration to gay rights. In other words, she's no Elizabeth Warren—but North Carolina isn't Massachusetts either.

Early on, Hagan cast an important committee vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—and she followed through on the floor to help that landmark legislation become law. She was slow to embrace same-sex marriage, but she did so last year. Hagan's fence-sitting helped Republicans kill the DREAM Act in 2010—she was one of five Democrats who allowed the GOP filibuster to succeed. But in 2013, Hagan joined a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" that was key to passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Hagan is pro-choice on women's reproductive rights, gets an "F" from the National Rifle Association— in our book, an "A"—and favors raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Environmentalists decry her support for building the Keystone XL pipeline, a project freighted with significance in the battle over climate change. Still, Hagan is no climate change denier, but rather an Obama-style "all of the above" waffler on energy issues.

Two other Democrats are on the ballot. Will Stewart, "a regular guy," is for marijuana legalization and against the Patriot Act. Ernest Reeves is a retired Army vet with no discernable reason for running.

Hagan will lead the Democratic ticket in North Carolina this fall. In Washington, her seat is vital if Democrats are to retain control of the Senate. For both reasons, progressives and moderates should unite behind her re-election.

Libertarian

Sean Haugh, of Durham, is a Libertarian Party activist and frequent candidate for office on the party's slate. "I was raised to abhor violence and respect all people regardless of race or gender or anything else," Haugh says.

Tim D'Annunzio is a whack-job Republican posing as a Libertarian. When he ran in a Republican primary for Congress in 2010, then-GOP State Party Chairman Tom Fetzer called D'Annunzio "unfit for public office at any level." Exactly.

This article appeared in print with the headline "No, not Thom Tillis."

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