September 20, 2019/Press

NEW: “Warning Signs Flash for Tillis” as National Analyst Moves NC Senate Race Rating Towards Democrats

Raleigh – The nonpartisan election analysts at Cook Political Report moved the North Carolina Senate race today from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican” because of Senator Tillis’ weakness with voters and “self-inflicted wounds,” noting that “voters of all ideological stripes simply don’t trust Tillis.”

On the same day, a separate report found “warning signs flash” for Senator Tillis amid “growing concern about his standing among the state’s conservative primary voters” which has forced even Tillis’ in-state backers to admit, “our Senate seats have flipped an awful lot.”

Cook Political notes how “North Carolina has become a purple state,” and cites Senator Tillis’ spinelessness and “self-inflicted wounds” like his flip flop on the emergency declaration that raided $80 million that was supposed to go to North Carolina as an example of why he “doesn’t seem to please either side” of the political spectrum.

Tillis’ weakness dragged him into a far-right primary with challenger Garland Tucker, who has “ample personal resources to put in the race,” “has already been on the air,” and who is hammering the weak incumbent for his many egregious flip-flops. Even Republican strategists fear Trump’s support of Tillis might not be enough for him to survive his increasingly nasty Republican primary.

Cook Political Report: Tillis Moves to Lean Republican
By Jennifer E. Duffy
September 20, 2019

Key Points:

  • Democrats have their sights set on Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who is seeking a second term. But, before Tillis can focus on a Democratic challenger, he must fend off a primary to his right from wealthy businessman Garland Tucker and farmer Sandy Smith.
  • The state’s changing political landscape forces Tillis to walk a fine. As a result, he doesn’t seem to please either side. Many Republicans don’t believe that he is conservative enough, while Democrats argue that he is too conservative. It doesn’t help that he has some self-inflicted wounds. In February, Tillis penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he said that he would vote against President Trump’s declaration of an emergency on the southern border. After an outcry from conservatives, he changed his position. The story continues to linger. Trump diverted some money from the Department of Defense to pay for the border wall, including $80 million that was supposed to go to North Carolina. Conservatives are unhappy that Tillis joined a bipartisan effort to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. And they continue to hold a grudge with Tillis over his tenure as Speaker of the state House, arguing that he was too willing to work across the aisle and cut deals. The bottom line is that voters of all ideological stripes simply don’t trust Tillis.
  • It’s not surprising then that Tillis pulled primary opposition.
  • Tucker seems to have ample personal resources to put in the race; as of June 30, he put $700,000 into the race, which amounted to most of the $1 million he reported. Tillis had nearly $4.4 million in the bank at the end of the second quarter.
  • Tucker has already been on the air, spending $849,000 to introduce himself to voters. Tillis launched his television advertising this week with a spot featuring footage of Trump at a rally in North Carolina calling Tillis a warrior and saying that he should be re-elected. Trump’s endorsement will carry a great deal of weight in the primary, but strategists fear that it might be enough.

The Hill: Warning signs flash for Tillis in North Carolina
By Max Greenwood
September 20, 2019

Key Points:

  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has been endorsed by President Trump and has the full backing of Republicans’ Senate campaign arm. So when he took the stage at one of Trump’s rallies in Fayetteville, N.C. last week, the boos from some in the audience weren’t necessarily how a first-term Republican senator facing a primary challenge would hope to be received.
  • The episode is illustrative of what Democrats and some Republicans say is Tillis’ increasingly apparent vulnerability heading into his 2020 reelection bid.
  • A Morning Consult survey released in July showed him with the lowest approval rating of any sitting senator – just 33 percent – and multiple polls have him trailing his potential Democratic challengers, including state Sen. Erica Smith and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
  • At the same time, Tillis is facing a primary challenge from retired Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker, and there are signs that he’s already beginning to take the contest seriously. He unveiled a $2.2 million television and radio ad buy on Monday touting his work with Trump. That ad campaign is slated to run through North Carolina’s March 3 primary.
  • Tillis’s critics say the ad campaign is a sign of growing concern about his standing among the state’s conservative primary voters. One North Carolina Republican official familiar with the Senate race said that many core GOP voters in the state are “disaffected” by Tillis.
  • “The base is indifferent on him,” the official said. “They don’t love him, but they don’t hate him.”
  • The price tag for the ad buy is substantial, accounting for more than half of the $4.3 million in cash on hand Tillis reported at the end of June.
  • “You don’t spend half your cash on hand this early on a primary challenger that you’ve been trying to dismiss as not a threat up to this point,” one Democratic official familiar with Senate races said.
  • Several Republican officials and operatives said that the criticism of Tillis from the right – and the boos at Trump’s rally last week – stem from his early opposition to Trump’s emergency declaration allowing construction to begin on a wall along the U.S. southern border.
  • Tillis, who initially outlined that opposition in an op-ed in The Washington Post, eventually reversed course and voted against a Senate measure disapproving of the declaration. But his chief primary opponent, Tucker, has sought to capitalize on that about-face to cast Tillis as insufficiently conservative, only willing to embrace Trump when convenient.
  • Tucker began airing television ads attacking Tillis almost immediately after announcing his candidacy in May, knocking the senator for opposing Trump’s plan to cut foreign aid spending and his initial resistance to the emergency declaration.
  • “[Republican primary voters] follow politics pretty closely and they’re familiar with Tillis’s record on spending, on immigration, on the flip flop on the wall,” said Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican consultant in North Carolina and an adviser to Tucker. “He’s got a problem in that he’s seen as not in step with Republican voters.”
  • On Friday, the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, moved Tillis’s race from the “likely” Republican column into the “lean” Republican column, noting that he is torn between competing political realities: many Republicans in the state believe he is not conservative enough, while Democrats see him as too conservative.
  • While Tillis’s allies insist that they’re not nervous about his prospects, several political strategists and operatives noted North Carolina’s long history of booting its incumbent senators from office. In fact, Tillis won his first Senate bid in 2014 after narrowly defeating Hagan. And Hagan took office after ousting her predecessor, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), in 2008.