May 10, 2019/Press

Inside Senator Tillis’ Worst Week Ever: A Primary Challenger, Presidential Threats, A Health Care Backlash

Raleigh – There’s no mincing words: this week was a disaster for Senator Tillis. From a conservative primary challenger who can self-fund to presidential threats and in-state protests of his health care agenda, Senator Tillis suffered the worst week of his fledgling reelection campaign. With little in-state support, a temperamental president who can end his candidacy with a tweet, and people furious at his attacks on their health care, Senator Tillis should get ready for plenty more weeks like this.

Here’s a quick look at Senator Tillis’ disastrous week:

Monday – Tillis Earns a Primary Challenger
His weakness with Republican voters – Tillis saw his approval rating among Republican voters drop 12 points since January, leaving him with “the second-lowest base support among GOP Senators up in 2020 – earned him a primary challenger in conservative businessman Garland Tucker who “has the ability to self-fund and could force Tillis to the right in the primary.”

Tuesday – Coverage Labels Tillis as One of the “Most Vulnerable Senators in 2020”
Tillis’ primary problem makes statewide and national news, with coverage focusing on Senator Tillis’ weakness and his “flip-flop for the ages,” which is quickly defining his reelection campaign:

  • “Retired businessman Garland Tucker III is launching a primary challenge to North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, one of Republicans’ most vulnerable senators in 2020.” [Roll Call]
  • “Critics of Tillis were unhappy when Tillis initially said he’d oppose President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border and then ultimately voted for it. They say Tillis is ripe for a competitive primary.” [WWAY Wilmington]
  • North Carolina “will likely be one of the most competitive Senate races this cycle” [Wall Street Journal]
  • “K Street, home of the lobbyists, will definitely be with Sen. Tillis.” – NC political analyst Marc Rotterman [NewsMax]
  • “Tillis has been among the many passive go-alongers in the GOP, voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act…” [Washington Post]

As Tillis and Tucker battle it out to see who’s Trumpiest, new polling shows President Trump underwater in North Carolina.

Wednesday – “The Price NC is Paying” & Another Primary Challenger?
Editorial Boards and columnists noted that North Carolinians – from farmers to those still recovering from recent hurricanes – are paying the price for his weakness:

  • “Is Tillis so intimidated by a primary challenge that he’ll sacrifice every last shred of integrity?” [CBC]
  • “Tillis’s weak-kneed behavior is having important and destructive consequences right here in North Carolina.” [Policy Watch]

Going from bad to worse, Republican Mark Walker – who previously polled the state and who conservative activists publicly wished would enter the race – refused to rule out entering himself.

Thursday – Hannity “Lit Up” Tillis, Trump Twitter Threat, Health Care Protests 
Tucker and Trump-backer Sean Hannity offered a one-two punch on Senator Tillis, with Tucker slamming him as “very, very weak” while Hannity “lit up” Senator Tillis and said this “is going to be a big, big primary fight.”

Tillis then bowed to Presidential threats, blasting North Carolina colleague Richard Burr for subpoenaing Donald Trump Jr. after the President’s supporters warned “the president would tweet support for Mr. Tillis’s primary opponent if the senator did not speak out.” A Meet The Press panel labeled Tillis’ move of wilting before pressure “The Tillis Effect” while a conservative commentator said, “This is apparently all it takes to get a U.S. Senator to fold like a cheap lawn chair.

Things didn’t get better when Senator Tillis left D.C. Back home for a fundraiser with the RNC, Tillis faced protestors upset with his attacks on their health care, with one protestor saying she just “wants to keep her kid safe”:

Friday – Conservative Challenger Launches Statewide TV Ads
Tucker “comes out swinging,” launching a statewide TV ad slamming Senator Tillis, saying, “What Congress needs is backbone” after promising to “drain the swamp.”


What a week. Bloomberg Congressional reporter Steven Dennis said it best: