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As Thom Tillis Returns To Washington With 22 Percent Approval Rating, Cal Cunningham In Strong Position

Tillis Faced Backlash From North Carolina Military Families And Farmers, And For His Support For The Syria Troop Withdrawal

RALEIGH, NC – U.S. Senate candidate and Army veteran Cal Cunningham is in a strong position in his race to defeat Senator Thom Tillis, while Tillis will return to Washington following a two week recess where his new 22 percent approval was on full display.

On Friday, Inside Elections moved North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race from Tilts Republican to Toss-Up in the latest sign of momentum for Cal following a strong fundraising quarter and three polls with Cal beating Tillis. Sabato’s Crystal Ball had also upgraded the race days earlier.

If that weren’t bad enough, new polling shows Tillis’ approval at just 22 percent in the state, where over the recess he was met with criticism from North Carolina military family members and local farmers, and for his support of the White House’s troop withdrawal from Syria.

Read more below.

News & Observer: Tillis talks about impeachment, military cuts in visit to Fort Bragg

  • Two days after voting to back an emergency declaration allowing millions of dollars in cuts to North Carolina military bases to help President Donald Trump pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis met with troops and their families at Fort Bragg.

  • Although Tillis was at Bragg primarily to hear complaints about poor conditions in on-base housing — which won’t be affected by any potential cuts — some in the audience cited those cuts to question his broader commitment to the military.

  • Some in the audience questioned how committed he was to their plight.

  • “How can we trust you to fix it if you’re taking money from us actively for a border wall?” asked Tamara Terry, whose husband is stationed at Fort Bragg.

  • Tillis originally said he considered Trump’s plan an example of the executive branch taking too much power. He wrote a widely shared op-ed for the Washington Post saying he opposed an increase in the power of the presidency.

  • However, under pressure from conservative activists, Tillis flip-flopped and eventually supported Trump’s plan, in votes earlier this year and again this week.

WFAE: Democratic Senate Candidate Cal Cunningham Raises $1M In Third Quarter

  • North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham raised more than $1 million in the third quarter, and has $1.1 million cash on hand five months before the March 3 primary.

  • Cunningham has raised $1.72 million for the election cycle, according to the campaign.

  • Democrats are hoping to defeat Republican first-term incumbent Thom Tillis in November, in what national political experts say is expected to be one of the nation’s most competitive Senate races.

  • Cunningham has raised more money at this point in the race than Tillis has in 2013, before he defeated Democrat Kay Hagan in 2014.

  • Cunningham’s donors include Janet Cowell, the former state treasurer who was rumored to be a Senate candidate earlier this year; Carolyn Hunt, the wife of former Gov. Jim Hunt; Charlotte businesswoman Crandall Bowles; and former Charlotte City Council member Betty Chafin Rash.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball: The Senate: Ratings Changes and the Shadow of Impeachment

  • Two other vulnerable Senate Republicans, Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), seem to be more clearly supportive of the president in the impeachment battle in the early going, and part of the reason may be that they both have at least somewhat serious primary challengers.

  • Tillis, in particular, appears to be sweating the challenge from businessman Garland Tucker (R), as the incumbent has dropped $2 million on a pre-primary ad buy and is highlighting his backing from Trump.

  • McSally was already firmly in the Toss-up column, and we’re moving Tillis to that rating too. His personal favorability numbers are not good, and his primary challenge is pushing him to embrace Trump strongly, which may or may not be the right move in the long term.

WFAE: NC Farmers Tell Tillis, Agriculture Secretary That Trade War Is Costing Them

  • Jim Howie of Union County runs a small beef cattle operation and works for a milk marketing co-operative.

  • He told Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, that he didn’t care to debate the merits of President Trump’s trade war with China. But he said the financial relief the Trump administration has given to farmers hasn’t been enough.

  • “I really don’t believe I’m qualified … maybe that’s my own fault … to debate on whether those tariffs are right or wrong, but what I will not shy away from is agriculture is paying the brunt in this because of the drop in price,” Howie said.

  • Tillis took a different approach. He said the trade war is vital to national security.

  • “When I was back here in North Carolina, I only viewed it through the eyes of a farmer and the impact that tariffs can have on you all,” Tillis said. “But I also view it through the lens of someone who sits on Senate Armed Services, and I see a China that’s using an unfair trade relationship with us to fund their plan to be the military and economic superpower by 2050.”

Spectrum News: Tillis Defends Tariffs as Farmers Pay the Price

  • Despite the pinch felt by farmers, Senator Thom Tillis believes tariffs are going to be a necessary strategy to negotiate trade deals.

Fayetteville Observer: Trump turning back on alliances not new with Kurdish debacle

  • One notable exception to the chorus of criticism was Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who faces a tough primary fight, has been boasting of Trump’s support in campaign ads and will not be caught criticizing the president in anyway.

Charlotte Observer: Tillis gives Trump ‘benefit of the doubt’ on Syria pullout, unlike many GOP lawmakers

  • U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said Wednesday he’s giving President Donald Trump “the benefit of the doubt” on his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, breaking with fellow Republicans who’ve criticized the decision.

  • Tillis’s comments came hours after Turkey launched strikes against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

  • The president announced his decision to withdraw troops in a tweet on Sunday. Since then, many Republican senators — including Trump allies such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have condemned it.

  • Graham has called it “a disaster in the making.”

  • Tillis, who faces a Republican primary in his re-election bid, has embraced the president.

  • Polls have shown Tillis in trouble with some GOP voters. When he was introduced at Trump’s Fayetteville rally last month, some in the audience booed.

WFAE: As Other Republicans Criticize President On Syria, Tillis Supports Trump

  • As Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish forces on its border with Syria on Wednesday, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis said he’s backing Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from the area.

  • “But at this point, I’m giving the president the benefit of the doubt,” Tillis said.

  • Other Republicans have criticized the president. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, typically a vocal Trump supporter, said the president’s plan was “delusional and dangerous.” He said the U.S. couldn’t abandon the Kurds, who helped the U.S. troops defeat the Islamic State.

  • Tillis, a first-term Senator, is running for re-election in 2020. He has a primary opponent, Garland Tucker, who says Tillis hasn’t fully supported the president.

Spectrum News: NC 2020 Senate Candidates Spar Over Syria Withdrawal Decision

  • Cal Cunningham, a Democratic candidate in next year’s election, criticized comments made by the incumbent, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, accusing him of putting “partisan political interest ahead of the national interest.”

  • “We’ve got another example of our senator in Thom Tillis caving into pressure from the White House about a very important issue of national security,” Cunningham said.

  • “At this point, I’m giving the president the benefit of the doubt,” Tillis said. “We’ll go back next week – I’m sure we’ll have a classified briefing, and then I’ll have better access to the facts that he may have used to make that decision.”

  • Tillis is embracing the president as part of his re-election campaign. The president featured prominently in his first ad.

  • Tillis’s “benefit of the doubt” comment stands in contrast to what many in Congress are saying about Syria. The troop withdrawal has faced widespread criticism from both sides of the aisle, including from some of the president’s closest allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC.

Inside Elections: 2020 Senate Overview (Oct. 11, 2019): North Carolina

  • On the Democratic side, Cal Cunningham is the frontrunner for the nomination

  • It’s not even Fall yet, but Republicans have already spent a few million dollars on the race. Garland Tucker… has spent nearly $1 million on cable in his bid for the GOP nomination. In response, Tillis has spent (or reserved) more than $2 million for television ads through next year’s primary.

  • Despite his vulnerabilities, Tillis still has a path to victory that includes appealing to traditional Republicans in the suburbs and benefitting from Trump’s endorsement to turn out the GOP base.

  • Democrats believe that Cunningham could cut into both of those groups, while Trump’s presence on the ballot also helps turn out nonwhite and younger voters who are more likely to participate in a presidential year than a midterm.

  • Democrats believe that Cunningham’s profile will help him over-perform the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, especially because of the appeal of his service in the Army.