May 16, 2019/Press

Tillis’ Primary Problems One Week On: A “Rescue Mission,” Reelection Defining Coverage, and An Expensive Primary Fight

Raleigh – A week ago, Senator Thom Tillis officially earned a primary challenger in conservative businessman Garland Tucker, a nightmare scenario for Senator Tillis that cemented him as the most vulnerable senator in the country. It’s only been one week but already national Republicans are panicking and the race is starting to take shape, with Senator Tillis and conservative challenger Garland Tucker racing to President’s side for a costly and bruising Republican primary.

Here’s a quick look at the developments since Tillis’ challenger launched:

1. Washington Republicans panic and then head to NC to “rescue” Senator Tillis.

After Senator Tillis lost “credibility with North Carolina Republicans,” the only group he has left – Washington Republicans – rushed in to prop him up.

Panicked, the NRSC blasted his conservative challenger right after his launch, an attack that Tucker found “pretty amusing,” forcing a McConnell-aligned superPAC to come bat clean-up with another panicked attack that didn’t stick.

DC Republicans didn’t just throw words around. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel came to NC to fundraise with Senator Tillis and was greeted with voters protesting Senator Tillis’ attacks on their health care. Now, Vice President Pence and McDaniel are coming to “rescue” Tillis and “blunt criticism from the Right.”

2. Coverage defines Senator Tillis as “very, very weak” Washington insider who “caved like a $4 suitcase”

Coverage of Senator Tillis’ challenger blanketed state and national news – and, worse for Senator Tillis, focused on his reelection-defining “Olympic gold flip flop.”

His primary challenger blasted him as “very, very weak” to Hannity’s millions of listeners, while mentions in the News & ObserverAssociated PressWall Street JournalWWAY WilmingtonWXII Greensboro, and more highlighted Senator Tillis’ spineless flip-flop on the president’s national emergency in which he “caved like a $4 suitcase.”

Senator Tillis, desperate to tie himself to President Trump, then spinelessly attacked his North Carolina colleague over a subpoena to Donald Trump Jr. after President Trump’s allies threatened the “president would tweet support for Mr. Tillis’s primary opponent if the senator did not speak out.” The nakedly political move that caused Tillis to “fold like a cheap lawn chair” accomplished nothing other than reminding everyone that Senator Tillis “says what he says … because Thom Tillis is up for reelection.” (Donald Trump Jr. agreed to testify this week.)

3. True cost of the primary – “a pricey and distracting intraparty fight” – takes shape

Tucker ended the week launching television ads statewide, saying, “What Congress needs is backbone,” and announced that he’d seed his campaign with $1 million in preparation for a $6 million primary fight.

Tillis, on the other hand, has been a lackluster fundraiser who “started off the cycle at a slower fundraising clip,” raising almost the same amount in Q1 as Tucker promised to seed his campaign with.

Meanwhile, his challenger has picked up steam, with in-state conservatives labeling him “a formidable primary candidate” and national analysts declaring him a “fairly high profile, conservative challenger.”

Bottom Line: Senator Tillis is being propped up by panicked national Republicans, quickly being defined as a spineless flip-flopper, and facing a costly, bruising primary fight that will drag him to the right. As National Journalput it, this primary is “at best … a pricey and distracting intraparty fight that hinders Tillis in the general election. At worst… the hits prove permanently damaging, which is dangerous in a potential presidential swing state.”