It’s been one month since Senator Tillis earned a “big, big primary fight” — and if this Republican “circle of death” feels familiar, it’s because Tillis has been here before as Washington’s handpicked candidate in 2014. Republican special interests were able to pull him through that slog, but with a little less than a year to go until his next GOP primary, Tillis is losing donors, making mistakes, and serving up reasons for both Republicans and Democrats to hold him accountable.
Tillis Didn’t Break 50 Percent in the 2014 Primary
In 2014, Tillis was attacked as the “establishment” candidate (low-energy Jeb Bush was one of his biggest backers) and had to be pulled across the finish line by millions from GOP establishment special interests like Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Even with institutional support and facing fringe candidates, just 45 percent of Republican primary voters backed Tillis in 2014 – an alarming result that informs why national Republicans immediately threatened to “carpet bomb” challengers and “blackball” consultants who work for them when a new primary opponent emerged this year.
After nearly six years in the Senate and eight years in the state legislature, including four years as Speaker of the House, Tillis continues to struggle with the GOP base: a Morning Consult poll earlier this year found Tillis’ “net approval rating dropped 12 points among GOP voters in the first quarter of 2019.”
Unlike 2014, Tillis Now Faces a Challenger with Resources
Tillis’ fundamental weakness is one liability for the special interests that want to reelect him – the other is a challenger who can self-fund and is already attracting serious donors.
“At least 13” donors who previously donated to Senator Tillis have lined up behind his primary opponent Garland Tucker. Tucker, meanwhile, is “capable of funding several million dollars worth” for the campaign and has already launched TV and radio ads attacking the incumbent.
Tillis, meanwhile, “started off the cycle at a slower fundraising clip,” raising barely over $1 million in the first quarter of 2019.
Tillis’ Mistakes Are Liabilities Running Against Both Democrats & Republicans
From his “Olympic gold flip flop” to voting for a bill that would have hiked health care premiums for thousands of North Carolinians and gutted protections for people with pre-existing conditions – Tillis “might have torpedoed” his reelection campaign.
He was the chief fundraiser for Washington Republicans and brought in tens of millions from special interests and voted to give them and millionaires like himself a tax break. This same bill gave pharmaceutical companies a huge tax break while raising taxes on Gold Star families.
And still he keeps digging. Last month, he shamelessly skipped a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to attend a political fundraiser with the Vice President. It was later reported that “the money went to Trump Victory and not to Tillis,” meaning the only thing Senator Tillis earned from the fundraiser was this brutal headline: “Tillis skipped Senate VA Committee hearing to attend fundraiser in Greensboro.”
Bottom line: Senator Tillis remains a weak candidate with a toxic record, and he is already losing financial and political support from Republicans in a fight that will preoccupy him and his allies for the next nine months until the primary that he isn’t guaranteed to win.