October 1, 2019/Press

Inside Elections on NC Senate Race: “The GOP Primary Is Well Underway” & “Trump’s Endorsement Didn’t Undo The Damage” For Tillis

Raleigh – Senator Tillis faces “a tough general election contest” and is one of the most vulnerable Senators up in 2020, according to a deep dive from Inside Elections. The new report centers on how Senator Tillis is weak with voters of all political stripes, citing “Tillis’ initial nomination in 2014 with less than 50 percent of the vote,” “his more recent dance with the White House on emergency funding,” recent Democratic success in North Carolina, how Senator Tillis’ lengthy and toxic record on health care will be “a top issue,” and a GOP primary that is “well underway” with Tillis “spending more than $2 million on re-election ads.”

The report also highlights Senator Tillis’ refusal to be an independent voice for North Carolinians, citing Tillis’ infamous flip flop that enabled an $80 million raid on North Carolina’s military bases as “especially damaging to Tillis’ image.” Last week, at an event at Fort Bragg, military families questioned “how committed he was to their plight,” with one military spouse asking, “How can we trust you to fix it if you’re taking money from us actively for a border wall?

Inside Elections: North Carolina Senate: Something Red, Something Blue
By Leah Askarinam
September 27, 2019

  • More than a year ahead of Election Day, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis is spending more than $2 million on re-election ads as he faces a primary challenge and eventually a tough general election contest.
  • Even if longshots such as Georgia, Texas, or Iowa come further into play, it’s hard to imagine how Democrats build a majority without The Tar Heel State.
  • Next year, North Carolina will be one of the most politically active states in the country. It is likely to be a presidential battleground, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Tillis fight for re-election. Plus, state legislators approved new maps for the state legislature earlier this month, after a state panel ruled the current divisions unconstitutional, giving some Democrats hope of flipping the lower chamber. And three congressional seats are in play as well.
  • But North Carolina is most important because of the national consequences of its 2020 political behavior. Ultimately, between the presidential race and competitive Senate contest, North Carolina voters could change the power structure in Washington, D.C.
  • According to Inside Elections’ Baseline calculation — which measures average partisan performance over the last four election cycles — North Carolina is one of the most narrowly divided states in the country. Republicans have a 1-point advantage over Democrats; the only other state with a slimmer margin is Wisconsin, where Republicans have an advantage of one-tenth of 1 point.
  • In 2018, a “blue moon” election, the only statewide offices on the ballot were judges on the Court of Appeals, where two Democrats won with margins of 2 points.
  • The GOP primary is well underway. Tucker has been on cable television and radio since May, and had spent nearly $900,000 through Sept., according to CMAG/Kantar Media. Those ads connect Tillis to high-profile Democrats and attacks him for “flip-flopping,” arguing that Tucker is the right choice for conservatives.
  • Tillis responded early this month with his own $2.2 million television and radio ad blitz.
  • A February op-ed in the Washington Post — and the events surrounding the publication of the article — was especially damaging to Tillis’ image. Tillis wrote an op-ed with the headline: “I support Trump’s vision on border security. But I would vote against the emergency.” The backlash to the Republican senator parting ways with Trump was only the beginning of the saga. Tillis didn’t vote to disapprove of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to fund a border wall. Tillis said at the time that he reversed course after discussions with other Republicans — not because he was avoiding a potential primary challenge from a Trump loyalist.
  • But Trump’s endorsement didn’t undo the damage. At a September rally in Fayetteville ahead of the 9th District redo election, some members of the audience booed when Tillis appeared on stage and again when Trump mentioned the senator’s name.
  • From Tillis’ initial nomination in 2014 with less than 50 percent of the vote and his more recent dance with the White House on emergency funding, there appears to be an opening for a primary challenger.
  • The state has hosted several high-profile races in the last decade in which the winner received less than 50 percent: Obama (2008), Tillis (2014), Cooper (2016), and Trump. But, according to the News & Record, Tills’ 2014 performance was the lowest winning percentage in a U.S. Senate race in the state’s history.
  • Of course, the Republican nominee will also have to answer for Trump. In the primary, Trump is an asset to Republican candidates. But time will tell whether Trump’s standing in November hurts or helps his party’s Senate nominee. Democrats will also likely continue their 2018 midterm strategy of making health care a top issue across the country, which could result in litigating Tillis’ record on health care both in the Senate and the state House. And Tillis is one of the GOP Senators across the country who will face attacks for supporting legislation to divert military funding to build a border wall, given that North Carolina’s military bases would lose funding.
  • But results in the recent special “redo” election for North Carolina’s 9th District put into question whether Tillis can replicate his 2014 performance in the suburbs.