CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is leading his Republican primary opponents for the first time in the race for the United States Senate, according to a new poll.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says that Tillis, the presumptive front runner of the Republican challengers, has distanced himself slightly and now leads the field with 19 percent of voters polled picking him. His closest challenger trails with 11 percent.

“Just last month, we found that all the candidates were pretty much within one or two points of each other, but after starting to run television ads last week, we are finally seeing Tillis get out ahead of the pack,” Jensen says.

Forty six percent of Republican primary voters are familiar with Tillis, Jensen explains, compared to less than 30 percent for his field of challengers which include physician Greg Brannon, nurse practitioner Heather Grant, and radio host Bill Flynn.

Tillis is now leading in every region of the state except the Triad, where Flynn is well-known for his radio show. Jensen says Tillis has the lead with both conservative and moderate voters.

In the North Carolina general election, Jensen says the race has been in a holding pattern over the last three months. Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is trailing her potential Republican opponents by small margins as she continues to suffer from poor approval ratings.

“Throughout the summer, we had found Kay Hagan up by a pretty substantial margin, but ever since the Obamacare stuff, this has really been looking like a 50-50 race.”

Jensen says Hagan’s affiliation and support of the Affordable Care Act is greatly impacting her approval rating.

“She has some of the lowest approval ratings she has had over her entire term,” Jensen says. “Only 39 percent of voters approve of the job Hagan is doing. Forty-nine percent disapprove. What is really interesting is when you look at those approval numbers, they mirror the approval numbers for Obamacare in North Carolina almost exactly.”

Only 38 percent of voters in the State support Obamacare, compared to 48 percent who are opposed.