Tillis faces philosophical, practical dilemmas in Senate bid

March 17, 2014 

Thom Tillis, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, had a quick rise in the state House. The Republican from the Charlotte area was first elected to the House in 2006. By 2010, he was speaker in the aftermath of a GOP victory that put both houses of the General Assembly, and the governor’s office, in Republican hands for the first time in over 100 years.

The business consultant clearly has enjoyed being king of the House hill, but in the Senate campaign he’ll face a formidable foe in incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. That’s if he wins his primary.

The immediate challenge for Tillis may be just as daunting.

He presided over the House at a time when the legislature passed controversial restrictions on abortion rights (not a good run-on issue with women) and backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. And his Republicans managed to find themselves cast as critics of public education in general and public school teachers in particular.

The speaker has been opposed to a minimum wage hike, even though North Carolina has many people making minimum wage. Sometimes political philosophies don’t match up very well with the effects they have on real, hard-working, voters.

Tillis has two conservative primary opponents, which means he needs to solidify his base without offending mainstream voters who don’t identify with the political extremes. Can he go right in the Republican primary and still retain credibility with the broader cross-section of voters he’ll need to beat Hagan should he win the GOP nomination? Democrats, to be fair, sometimes have the same problem moving left-to-center.

It will be no mean feat, and Tillis will need some fancy footwork to avoid becoming a victim of the sharp divisions in his own party before he even gets a chance to dance in the general election.

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