October 21, 2019/Press

“Red Flags” & “Gloomier Outlook” For Tillis After “Underwhelming” Fundraising Quarter, “Credible Primary Threat”

Raleigh – Senator Tillis’ reelection chances are looking “gloomier” amid many “red flags,” including “underwhelming” fundraising, a “credible primary threat” from conservative businessman Garland Tucker, the “lowest approval rating” of any sitting Senator, and an election that’s “turning more into a referendum on Tillis,” according to a new analysis from the Politics Editor of National Journal.

Taken together, a trendline is clear: “Tillis a lot more vulnerable than the conventional wisdom – facing two-front fight and not raising the money needed in an expensive state.

The “credible primary threat” from Tucker has made it “harder for [Tillis] to consolidate [his] base” but the more he tries, “the tougher it becomes to win over the suburban moderates who decide races in these swing states.” Tucker, who recently garnered a profile piece in the News & Observer, has “poured $1.2 million of his own money into the campaign—around the same amount Tillis raised in the last three months” and is forcing Senator Tillis to spend heavily in an expensive primary.

Making matters worse, Tillis has the “lowest approval rating (33 percent) of any sitting senator” in a race that nonpartisan analysts say has shifted in Democrats’ direction and become a toss-up in recent months. Tillis has found himself here because he continues to show North Carolinians that he’s a weak Washington politician who looks out for his reelection chances before what’s best for the state.

National Journal: Red Flags All Over for Senate Republicans
By Josh Kraushaar
October 20, 2019

Key Points:

  • Buried in the Washington drama of impeachment, corruption, and foreign policy chaos this past week was a ground-shaking bit of news: New polling and fundraising figures show that Mitch McConnell’s hold on the Senate majority is looking awfully precarious. Indeed, the pathway for a narrow Democratic takeover of the upper chamber is looking clearer than ever.
  • And in North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis raised only $1.2 million, an underwhelming sum for a senator facing a credible primary threat and an expensive general election ahead. All four swing-state senators also are viewed unfavorably by their constituents according to new quarterly Morning Consult polling, underscoring the sudden shift in support away from Republicans.
  • The GOP’s outlook in Arizona and North Carolina is also looking gloomier. Both Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina are facing nuisance primary challengers, which makes it harder for the incumbents to consolidate their base. But the more they try to protect their right flank, the tougher it becomes to win over the suburban moderates who decide races in these swing states.
  • Tillis holds the lowest approval rating (33 percent) of any sitting senator, according to the Morning Consult survey. A Democratic poll conducted in September found him trailing his little-known Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham, 45 to 43 percent. But before he even faces Cunningham, he’ll have to get past self-funded businessman Garland Tucker in the primary. Tucker has poured $1.2 million of his own money into the campaign—around the same amount Tillis raised in the last three months. Tucker has already been using that money on anti-Tillis campaign ads, forcing the senator to respond in kind.
  • …this race is turning more into a referendum on Tillis. If Cunningham wins the nomination and runs a competent race, Tillis will face major hurdles in winning a second term.
  • In a normal political environment, Republicans would have good reason to be confident they could win some of these hotly contested races. But given the trajectory of Trump’s presidency and the trend lines in the battlegrounds, Republicans don’t have much room for error. Right now, control of the Senate past 2020 looks awfully close to a toss-up with over a year until the election.

PoliticsNC: A North Carolina Senator’s Conundrum
By Thomas Mills
October 21, 2019

Key Points:

  • A National Journal article this weekend listed Senator Thom Tillis as the incumbent US Senator with the lowest approval rating.
  • Tillis raised a relatively paltry $1.2 million last quarter. While that’s still a lot of money, it’s not for an incumbent Senator in a highly competitive race. To put it into perspective, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina raised $3.3 million in a much smaller and less competitive state.
  • Tillis not only faces a general election; he faces a self-funding primary opponent who is already running ads and forcing Tillis to spend his money.
  • If he doesn’t survive the primary, North Carolina could find itself with an open seat in a year that seems likely to favor Democrats.
  • However, there’s more at work here than just politics. As I’ve written before, North Carolina doesn’t generally like its US Senators. With the exception of Jesse Helms and Richard Burr, nobody’s been re-elected since the late 1960s. That’s almost fifty years of one-term Senators.
  • That said, Tillis has made the situation worse for himself. Instead of trying to define himself, he’s jumped from position to position and landed as a Lindsey Graham-type Trump suck up. Nobody knows where he stands because he’s not sure himself. His modest fundraising probably reflects the level of his support.