Thom Tillis expected to announce US Senate run jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comMay 30, 2013 

— House Speaker Thom Tillis plans to formally enter the U.S. Senate race next week, becoming the first major candidate to challenge Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan in 2014.

A Tillis ally said the Cornelius Republican will officially file paperwork next week with the Federal Election Commission.

Two Republican lawmakers and two GOP operatives close to the speaker confirmed Tillis will softly launch his campaign Friday, a week after his allies started a super PAC to raise unlimited sums in federal campaign cash.

A Tillis spokesman declined to comment.

The super PAC, an independent committee formed to support his bid, is called “Grow NC Strong” and can legally raise unlimited amounts to fund TV ads.

The Mecklenburg County Republican told The News & Observer in January that he was weighing a bid and more recently told reporters he would spend Memorial Day weekend talking with his family.

He has traveled the state in support of other GOP House candidates. Last year, he raised more than $1.7 million and spent most on behalf of other candidates.

Tillis could face a crowded primary.

Others named as possible contenders include U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk and Renee Ellmers of Dunn; state Sen. Phil Berger; and former ambassador Jim Cain.

So far, however, Dr. Greg Bannon, a Cary OB-GYN, is the only Republican Senate candidate who has announced.

Staff writer Rob Christensen contributed.

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