Politics & Government

Raleigh businessman challenging Tillis in GOP Senate primary airing TV ads this week

The retired Raleigh businessman challenging Sen. Thom Tillis for the 2020 Republican nomination is not wasting anytime trying to introduce himself to voters across the state.

Garland Tucker’s campaign will begin airing television and radio ads Friday as the first-time political candidate attempts to draw distinctions with Tillis, a former N.C. House Speaker who won his first term in the U.S. Senate in 2014, his campaign confirmed.

The 30-second television ad highlights two issues that Tucker said will be at the heart of his campaign against Tillis: federal spending and immigration. Medium Buying, a political ad buying company whose clients include Republicans across the country, reported the ads will appear on Fox News.

The ad criticizes Tillis for opposing President Donald Trump’s plan to slash foreign aid and, initially, his national emergency declaration.

“I don’t have to think twice about cutting foreign aid,” Tucker says in the ad, which bills him as a “conservative for U.S. Senate.”

In 2017, Tillis, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a conservative group in Raleigh that generals and admirals support foreign aid spending, The News & Observer reported. If not “just make sure you buy me more bullets,” Tillis said they tell him.

Tillis penned an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing against Trump’s national emergency declaration, worried about the precedent it could set. Tillis, saying he had won concessions from the White House, voted with the president weeks later. Some Republicans in the state went public with their displeasure before Tillis’ vote.

Sen. Thom Tillis explains his reasons for changing his stance on the national emergency declaration during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, March 14, 2019. CSPAN

“The bottom line on all that is it’s very hard for politicians to vote no on spending. Well, I’m not a politician and I’m not going to think twice about voting no on spending,” Tucker said in an interview.

Tucker, who turns 72 in June, called the federal debt “immoral” and criticized votes by Tillis to raise the debt ceiling and go over budget spending caps. In 2015 and 2018, Tillis voted yes on budget deals that raised the spending caps. Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator, voted no on both. In February, the federal debt reached $22 trillion, up $2 trillion from when Trump took office in 2017.

Tucker, who founded Triangle Capital Corporation in the early 2000s and was on the board when it was sold last year, is putting his own money into the campaign as it ramps up fundraising. He would not disclose how much he has committed to spend.

“I’m committed to do whatever it takes to get the operation up and going,” he said.

He has donated to Republican candidate for years, including giving $2,600 to Tillis’ first Senate campaign in 2014, according to federal election records. He said Tillis ran on “a good solid conservative platform. In a couple very important areas, he’s really failed to deliver.”

Despite that record of Republican giving, the National Republican Senatorial Committee called Tucker’s campaign a “quixotic adventure for a wealthy, out-of-touch liberal.”

The Tillis campaign and its allies have tagged Tucker as an “anti-Trump activist” for a September 2016 opinion piece he wrote for The News & Observer. In it, Tucker outlined his concerns about Trump, whom he called a “flawed candidate,” and expressed doubts about his character, temperament and consistency on policy. But Tucker said he would vote for Trump over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Tucker said Thursday that the piece was written for “never Trumpers,” Republicans who refused to vote for Trump.

“I wouldn’t retract anything I said in that,” Tucker said. “Since then, it has been one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve ever seen. Trump’s policies, forget the tweets and any noise around him, his policies are right in line with my conservative heroes.

“I’m really pleased he got elected and I shudder to think there’s any chance he might not get re-elected.

Carter Wrenn, the longtime Republican political strategist who is working for Tucker, said the early television ads are aimed at giving Republican voters a choice.

“Garland needs to become well known. We need to say to voters here’s where Garland stands, here’s where Tillis stands,” Wrenn said. “If you’re a challenger to an incumbent senator, not unusual to try to go on television early.”

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.