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Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the 2014 midterms, lashed out at Republican candidate Thom Tillis on Thursday, with the first attack ads of her re-election campaign.

The first ad criticizes Tillis, the speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives, for comments that he made about the Affordable Care Act in February. The radio spot plays audio of Tillis calling Obamacare “a great idea” — while cutting out the second half of Tillis’ original quote (“It’s a great idea that can’t be paid for”).

“So Thom Tillis thinks he can attack Kay Hagan over something he calls ‘a great idea?’ Watch close,” the ad’s narrator says. “Seems Thom Tillis wants it both ways.”

The second spot focuses on a scandal in which two Tillis staffers had affairs with lobbyists.

“Instead of firing them, Tillis arranged for golden parachutes, paid for by taxpayers, worth over $19,000,” the narrator charges. “Our tax dollars, bailing out the indiscretions of Thom Tillis’ staff. Those may be values, but they’re not North Carolina’s.”

Audio of both ads can be heard here.

The lobbyist attack is very similar to an ad released on Tuesday by Senate Majority PAC, the largest outside group supporting Democrats in the midterm elections. So far, however, the vast majority of outside spending in North Carolina has targeted Hagan (one group, the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, has already spent more than $7 million attacking the incumbent Democrat).

In addition to tarnishing Tillis, the slight frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Hagan’s ads may be a subtle attempt to boost the candidacy of Dr. Greg Brannon. A Tea Party favorite, Brannon is attempting to outflank Tillis from the right; an ad campaign suggesting that Tillis actually supports Obamacare could help his cause (indeed, Brannon himself has launched almost identical attacks throughout the campaign).

Lending Brannon a hand could pay off handsomely for Hagan. Brannon’s long list of extreme positions and gaffes would likely make him a much easier general election opponent than Tillis. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) executed a similar strategy in 2012, when she aired ads intended to push Republican primary voters towards then-Rep. Todd Akin. The strategy worked; Akin won the primary, and infamously imploded in the general election when he shared his thoughts on “legitimate rape.”

Even if Brannon cannot win the Republican nomination, Hagan would still benefit if he keeps Tillis under 40 percent in the May 6 primary. That would send the top two finishers to a runoff election — and keep the GOP nomination unsettled until July.

Photo: Third Way via Flickr

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