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9.23.20

National Reports Highlight Tillis’ Weaknesses With Base, On Key Issues Like Health Care

This week Vox and The New York Times profiled the Senate match up between veteran Cal Cunningham and incumbent Senator Thom Tillis as “the road to a Democratic Senate majority runs through North Carolina.” 

In addition to laying out the stakes in this November’s election and how “the White House, Senate and Supreme Court could all hinge on North Carolina” both stories wrote about key vulnerabilities for Senator Tillis: 

  • On Medicaid: “North Carolina is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 200,000 people without access to affordable health insurance. Tillis, who was speaker of the state house from 2011 to 2015, bears significant responsibility for that fact; in 2013, the state legislature passed a bill explicitly forbidding a governor from unilaterally expanding Medicaid.” 
  • On Pre-existing Conditions Protections: “Tillis has been working to convince voters he supports protecting people with preexisting conditions despite the fact that the bill he voted for would have stripped those protections.” 
  • Among Independent Voters: “Some veteran North Carolina Republicans agree that Mr. Tillis may hurt himself in the political center by trying to consolidate his support on the right. The New York Times/Siena poll found that he was already losing by eight points among independents, a quarter of whom said they were undecided in the Senate race, and trailing badly in the state’s two largest metropolitan communities.” 
  • Among Republican Base Voters: “The first-term senator may have little choice: Twelve percent of Republican voters in North Carolina indicated in a New York Times-Siena College poll last week that they were undecided in the Senate race, about twice the share of Democrats who were uncertain about Mr. Tillis’s lesser-known Democratic rival, Cal Cunningham.”

Read more below.


Vox: North Carolina’s all-important 2020 Senate race, explained

By Dylan Scott – September 23, 2020

  • “North Carolinians know Thom Tillis, and they have very strong negative views about him, about his service, about the things he has chosen to pursue in office on issue after issue of importance to North Carolinians,” Cunningham told me in a recent interview. “He has either capitulated to the partisan pressures or walked in line with corporate special interests.”
  • Cunningham has the profile of many Democrats who won competitive races in the 2018 midterms: He’s a veteran and former military prosecutor who served two active-duty tours in Iraq. He served one term in the North Carolina State Senate in the early 2000s, worked for various law firms and a waste reduction company over the years, and he ran for the US Senate in 2010 but lost the Democratic primary in a runoff. Cunningham is also, as he will readily remind reporters and voters, a lifelong North Carolinian.
  • “If it had been a terrorist attack, there would have been an address to the nation, probably to a joint session of Congress. There would not have been a hesitation to invoke things like the Defense Production Act,” Cunningham said in late August. “There would have been clear communication from the top to every corner of America about how we fight that enemy. Here, we were told it was a hoax.”
  • North Carolina is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 200,000 people without access to affordable health insurance. Tillis, who was speaker of the state house from 2011 to 2015, bears significant responsibility for that fact; in 2013, the state legislature passed a bill explicitly forbidding a governor from unilaterally expanding Medicaid.
  • Tillis is in a weak position for an incumbent. He’s averaging 42.3 percent support in the Real Clear Politics average, well behind Trump’s 46.6 percent average. A Morning Consult analysis of the race found the senator lagging badly behind Trump with rural voters, with conservative voters, and with 2016 Trump voters. He was also performing worse than Trump with suburban and moderate voters.
  • Tillis’s record contains something to annoy both the far right and the rigidly centrist. He voted in favor of Obamacare repeal in the Senate, something Cunningham lumps together with Tillis’s opposition to Medicaid expansion in order to blame the senator for the state’s high uninsured rate. Tillis has been working to convince voters he supports protecting people with preexisting conditions despite the fact that the bill he voted for would have stripped those protections.
  • He also clashed with Trump over the president’s plan for declaring a national emergency along the Mexican border, initially signaling opposition to that plan for fear of the precedent it would set for a future Democratic administration. But he later reversed himself at the last minute and voted to affirm Trump’s plan; Cunningham therefore argues Tillis is unwilling to take principled stands against Trump.

New York Times: The White House, Senate and Supreme Court Could All Hinge on North Carolina

By Jonathan Martin – September 22, 2020

  • That makes North Carolina not just a bellwether but a linchpin, with Senator Thom Tillis holding perhaps the deciding seat in who controls the Senate. The White House, the Senate and the Supreme Court, then, could hang in the balance here.
  • “No one believes we can keep a Senate majority unless we win North Carolina,” Mr. Tillis said on Saturday at a rally with Mr. Trump in Fayetteville, N.C., shortly before the president took the podium and announced his plans to pick a female justice as early as this week.
  • Mr. Tillis is calculating that the president will win North Carolina again, and that the court fight will somehow polarize the electorate further, in a way that benefits the Republicans — and him.
  • The first-term senator may have little choice: Twelve percent of Republican voters in North Carolina indicated in a New York Times-Siena College poll last week that they were undecided in the Senate race, about twice the share of Democrats who were uncertain about Mr. Tillis’s lesser-known Democratic rival, Cal Cunningham.
  • Without those Republican voters, Mr. Tillis, who has trailed Mr. Cunningham in most surveys, will face an almost certain defeat.
  • Some veteran North Carolina Republicans agree that Mr. Tillis may hurt himself in the political center by trying to consolidate his support on the right. The New York Times/Siena poll found that he was already losing by eight points among independents, a quarter of whom said they were undecided in the Senate race, and trailing badly in the state’s two largest metropolitan communities.
  • “The Democrats are going to say this is proof he’s a Washington politician,” said Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican strategist, pointing to Mr. Tillis’s “baggage” from his comments about the 2016 court clash. And as Mr. Wrenn, who advised one of Mr. Tillis’s primary challengers, noted, “All the independents hate Washington politicians.”