The GOP establishment's top choice for Senate from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, won the party's nomination over a tea party favorite Tuesday night, setting up a fall showdown against a vulnerable incumbent, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.
Hagan is considered one of the key Democrats to beat in November if Republicans are to retake control of the Senate. GOP elders including Mitt Romney, as well as Karl Rove's American Crossroads, backed Tillis over hardline conservative Greg Brannon and several other Republicans. Tillis, the speaker of the state House in Raleigh, needed 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Republicans need six more Senate seats to gain the majority.
In another well-watched race, former "American Idol" star Clay Aiken was neck-and-neck in his bid for the Democratic nomination for a House seat in suburban Raleigh. With just over 40% of the vote, he held a slight lead over his main rival, former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco. But with 91% of the precincts reporting, the race was too close to call.
Whichever Democrat wins the nod, however, the district is tilted heavily Republican. The GOP incumbent, Rep. Renee Ellmers, is favored in November.
Primaries were also held Tuesday in Ohio, where House Speaker John A. Boehner defeated a conservative challenge in his West Chester-area district.
Boehner had taken the unusual step of running television ads to boost his campaign against newcomer J.D. Winteregg, a high school teacher.
Republican leaders, more than Democrats, have taken a more aggressive approach toward primary season, hoping to avoid past missteps in nominating candidates considered too hard-line to win general elections in November. At that time, voters will determine control of the House and Senate in Congress.