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Memo: With Polling Lead, Tillis Primary Spending & Dem Swing in NC-09, Cal Positioned to Win


TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Devan Barber, Cal for NC Campaign Manager
DATE: September 23, 2019
RE: With Polling Lead, Tillis Primary Spending & Dem Swing in NC-09, Cal Positioned to Win

More than a year out from the 2020 election, Cal Cunningham is well-positioned to take on and beat vulnerable Senator Thom Tillis in North Carolina: another new poll shows Cal leading the Republican incumbent; Tillis is already spending half of his cash on hand to win a primary; and the double-digit swing for Democrats in NC-09 amounts to a “five-alarm fire” for Republicans across the state. Meanwhile, with his record of service and grassroots support, Cal is building a team to win and his campaign for Senate continues to gain momentum and hold Tillis accountable.

The last three public polls show Cal beating Tillis.

  • A new poll released this week conducted by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found Cal leading Tillis by 2 points (45% to 43%) — and after hearing messages about both candidates’ records on money in politics, Cal’s lead expanded to 7 points (49% to 42%).

  • A July poll conducted for AARP by Republican pollster Fabrizio Ward, a firm working on Trump’s re-election campaign, also found Cal beating Tillis by 1 point (42% to 41%). The AARP poll found that by a two to one margin, voters would rather give a new person a chance to do better rather than re-elect Tillis.

  • A previous PPP poll conducted in June found Cal beating Tillis by 1 point(41% to 40%).

  • According to Morning Consult, Tillis has the lowest approval rating of any Senator in the entire country as his overall approval rating dropped “11 points since Trump took office.”

It’s clear that Cal has momentum and our campaign has an edge with room to grow. And Senator Tillis isn’t just losing to Cal in general election polls – he also has a significant problem with the Republican base. Tillis’ net approval rating fell by 12% among North Carolina Republicans during the first quarter of 2019 after his flip-flop on President Trump’s emergency declaration. He’s nowunderwater with GOP voters, facing a credible primary threat from a self-funding challenger who’s making gains, and being repeatedly met with boos at GOP rallies.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report just shifted its race rating in Democrats’ direction, noting that “voters of all ideological stripes simply don’t trust Tillis” and that “the frontrunner for the [Democratic] nomination is former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.”

Here’s how one longtime North Carolina pollster explained the data trend so far in the race:

“Warning signs flash for Tillis” as he raids his war chest to survive his primary.

Senator Tillis started a $2.2 million ad buy this month – half the cash on hand he reported at the end of Q2 – in response to a primary challenge from Garland Tucker, the wealthy conservative businessman who’s already won some former Tillis supporters. The ad is specifically “designed to blunt criticism from within his own party.” As one nonpartisan political analyst noted, “If anyone needed a sign that Tillis is vulnerable in a primary, this ad is a flashing red light.”

Read more about Tillis’ growing challenges:

NC-09 “five alarm fire” for GOP in North Carolina.

Earlier this month, Dan McCready swung a deep-red House district 10 points in Democrats’ direction in the special election. No Democrat has held the NC-09 seat since 1963, and McCready lost by just two points after President Trump won by 12 points here in 2016. This is a “five-alarm fire” for Republicans, who “aren’t winning back many in the vote-rich suburbs they lost in the 2018 midterms.”

  • Washington Post: “all things considered, this is supposed to be Trump country, and about half the district voted for the Democrat, not once but in two elections in a row”

  • POLITICO: “continues a worrisome trend for the party, which suffered heavy losses in the 2018 midterms and has not seen the political environment improve as Trump gears up for reelection”

  • National Journal: “Tuesday’s result in North Carolina’s 9th District may be the car wreck for rubbernecking Republicans on the road to 2020”

This is also building on a 2018 election cycle that saw North Carolina voters reject Republicans, with Democrats breaking the GOP supermajority in the state legislature and winning a key statewide judicial contest — and a 2016 cycle where Democrats won back the governor’s mansion and Trump won the state by less than 4 points.

Cal is holding Tillis accountable while building a team to win.

In the weeks since the White House announced it would raid $80 million in funding from military construction projects in North Carolina – with Senator Tillis’s support – Cal has focused on the impact this will have on installations and how it’s jeopardizing our national security. Cal’s Senate campaign launched a digital ad holding Tillis accountable on Facebook and YouTube that was geotargeted to communities impacted by the diverted military project funding. In a series of searing clips from local and national news, the ad illustrated the severe fallout for North Carolina in response to Tillis’ failure to protect this military funding.

Meanwhile, Cal is building a team to win this race. Cal is “consolidating support in his U.S. Senate bid, rolling out dozens of endorsements and announcing a big fundraising haul” after bringing in more than $720,000 last quarter in the span of just 14 days and sharing endorsements from former Senator Kay Hagan and dozens of community leaders, grassroots Democrats, and current and former elected officials from across the state. Cal has also earned the support of key organizations like the League of Conservation Voters, End Citizens United, and VoteVets.

At the same time, he’s also building a strong and diverse campaign team, including staff and advisers with experience in North Carolina who know how to win tough races:

  • Devan Barber, Campaign Manager – former DSCC Deputy Executive Director and Political Director and longtime aide to former Senator Kay Hagan

  • Ebonee Dawson, Political Director – former senior political and field aide for Chicago mayoral campaign and JB Pritzker’s campaign for Governor of Illinois

  • John Easterling, Political Coordinator – former College Democrats of North Carolina President and College Democrats of America Black Caucus Chairman

  • Aaron Simpson, Press Secretary – former Communications Director and Deputy Campaign Manager for Dan McCready (NC-09), former aide for Congressman Mike McIntyre (NC-07)

  • Brendan Koch, Finance Director – former senior fundraiser for Senator Jon Tester of Montana and former Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado

  • Morgan Jackson, General Consultant – veteran North Carolina Democratic strategist who has served in senior roles advising presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate campaigns

  • Doug Wilson, Political Advisor – former North Carolina Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director and Political Director for Senator Kay Hagan