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New ratings out from Politico today rate the North Carolina Senate race a toss-up, the third toss-up rating in a row, following continued momentum for Cal Cunningham’s campaign and “major hurdles” to Tillis’ re-election.
The rating follows toss-up ratings from both Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and growing support for Cal’s Senate bid, including endorsements from more than 140 North Carolina leaders and support in all 100 North Carolina counties.
Earlier this week, Politico wrote about Tillis’ tough position saying, “Tillis’ plight is unique.” Tillis’ primary opponent, Garland Tucker, is “draining Tillis of resources” and “pouring enough money into pointing out Tillis’ perceived dalliances away from Trump that the senator felt compelled to respond with an ad barrage of his own,” — a situation Politico says “most other vulnerable incumbents have avoided.”
Read more below.
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.
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.