Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign Thursday accused Republican Thom Tillis of “rewriting history” in a new ad that accuses Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of “meddling” in North Carolina’s GOP primary.
The flap started when Tillis, who is from Cornelius, began running an ad in response to one this week by the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC associated with Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
The dispute comes just over two weeks before the May 6 primary in which Tillis and seven other Republicans are vying to take on Hagan, expected to easily win the Democratic primary.
The Senate Majority ad said as speaker of the N.C. House, Tillis “rewarded” two staffers with taxpayer-paid bonuses after their 2012 resignations following reports of their affairs with lobbyists.
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“Seen those ads attacking Thom Tillis?” a narrator responds in Tillis’ ad. “They’re false. Tillis fired the staffers. Know who’s paying for the sleazy ads? It’s Harry Reid.
“Reid’s trying to fool Republican voters, meddling in our primary to get a weak opponent for Kay Hagan. The press says Democrats ‘fear Tillis the most.’”
But critics questioned Tillis’ claim that he “fired” the staffers.
“Speaker Tillis is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts,” said Ben Ray, a spokesman for Forward North Carolina, a group allied with Hagan.
In April 2012, two Tillis staffers left the speaker’s office after having affairs with lobbyists. One was his chief of staff, the other a policy adviser. Both departures were described as resignations.
In a statement at the time, Tillis said Chief of Staff Charles Thomas “verbally offered his resignation. … I have accepted his resignation.”
The two staffers were given a total severance of $19,333.
Asked about the staffers, spokesman Jordan Shaw said Thursday that Tillis “initiated the action of asking for their resignation.”
“Thom Tillis is trying to rewrite history to hide the fact that his staffers who had inappropriate relationships with lobbyists got taxpayer funded severance packages…” Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement.
Republican strategist Carter Wrenn said Tillis could have responded differently to the accusation about the former staffers.
“He might have said, I made a mistake. But didn’t,” Wrenn wrote on the blog “Talking About Politics.” “Instead he announced to the press, ‘Harry Reid hit the panic button.’ And blasted Reid for meddling in the Republican Primary.…But it won’t cut the mustard. … And, unless Tillis comes up with an answer, that’s a game changer.”
Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, wrote about the ad flap Thursday for Roll Call. He said in attacking Reid, Tillis is seeking a target that almost all Republicans can agree on.
As for meddling in the Republican primary, Gonzales said Reid and other Democrats are trying to weaken Tillis for any and every race.
“The goal is to drive up Tillis’ negatives whether that’s with Republican primary voters, swing voters or Democratic voters,” he said. “It could work in their favor in different ways.”