RALEIGH — Less than a week before the Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race, Thom Tillis is seeing a surge in support.
Gov. Pat McCrory announced his support for Tillis on Tuesday, calling the N.C. House speaker “the person with the best qualifications needed in Washington, D.C.”
“I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, I plan to vote on the ballot for Thom Tillis for U.S. Senate,” said McCrory, who will vote early in Charlotte. “He is a man of incredible integrity. He is a person with incredible experience and a track record of success, and he’s an individual who understands business and understands job creation.”
The endorsement came the same week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launches a statewide television advertising campaign to boost Tillis’ campaign and a new poll shows him likely clearing the hurdle needed to win outright.
“Thom Tillis, a bold conservative who balanced our budgets and reduced regulations,” a narrator says in the Chamber’s commercial that criticizes first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. “Conservative Thom Tillis. He’ll fight Washington instead of joining them.”
Countdown to May 6
Tillis and his supporters are scrambling in the final days before the May 6 primary to reach the 40 percent mark needed to avoid a costly primary runoff July 15. His main rivals, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, are trying to force overtime and spent the final debate Monday attacking Tillis for his record, just as Democrats have done in recent weeks.
But a new survey from Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based Democratic firm, found Tillis at 46 percent among Republican primary voters, trailed by Brannon at 20 percent and Harris at 11 percent. The other five candidates registered in the single digits in a poll with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.
Tillis’ support represented a huge spike from earlier in the month and came after his campaign and outside groups – including two super PACs, the National Rifle Association and others – spent millions on advertising to spread his message. “Tillis’ overwhelming advantage on the airwaves has fueled his momentum in the stretch run of the campaign,” pollster Tom Jensen said.
Tillis is the preferred candidate among establishment Republicans to challenge Hagan in November. Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, is endorsed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and draws support from the tea party community. Harris, a Charlotte pastor, is trying to reach evangelical voters and make the race about character.
McCrory and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced their support for Tillis at SMT, a sheet metal-fabricator in northwest Raleigh. The company’s CEO, Susan Rothecker, is the mother of a Republican statehouse lobbyist.
‘Partner’ and ‘friend’
The governor called Tillis “his partner,” and Tillis called McCrory “his friend.” Together, they touted legislative achievements under Republican control, such as efforts to cut taxes and improve the economy. “The results are undeniable,” Tillis said, referring to the state’s unemployment rate, which fell to 6.3 percent in March, down 2.2 points from a year earlier.
The Republican Party and its leaders typically refrain from making endorsements in primary contests. But McCrory, the party’s de facto head in North Carolina, said he felt compelled to speak out.
He stopped short of suggesting the other candidates were unelectable in November, as other Republicans argue. And he deflected a question about whether he was worried about upsetting tea party voters, many of whom oppose Tillis, with his announcement.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Thom Tillis has risen to the top in this interview process,” McCrory said, echoing remarks he made earlier this month.
He thanked the other candidates for running, calling Harris a “good friend.” McCrory also pledged to support any Republican candidate who wins. “I think all of them have the possibility to win” in November, he said.