Republican Mark Harris Wednesday became the second GOP U.S. Senate candidate this week to attack rival Thom Tillis, raising what an adviser described as “character” questions.
The attacks came after a poll by the Harris campaign that sought to cast the contest as a two-man race between the Charlotte pastor and Tillis, the speaker of the N.C. House.
The so-called “push” poll showed Tillis with a double-digit lead that shrank when character questions were raised about him.
Harris could not be reached. But Tom Perdue, his campaign consultant, said Tillis “essentially lives a double life; he says one thing and does another he’s nothing more than a typical Democrat.”
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It’s the first time Harris’ campaign has leveled tough words at any of other seven GOP candidates vying to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
“(It) appears that Rev. Harris is being led by political advisers instead of following the commandment against bearing false witness,” said Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw.
“At a time when all conservatives should be talking about Kay Hagan’s failures in Washington, it’s disappointing to see a campaign strategy that runs counter to the kind of reputation Rev. Harris has built.”
Republican candidates have had little chance to challenge Tillis in person. He so far has failed to appear at any forums. That continues Thursday night, when six of the candidates are expected to appear at a forum hosted by the Catawba County Republican Party.
The Harris campaign attack came less than seven weeks before the May 6 primary and days after Republican candidate Greg Brannon fired his own volleys at Tillis.
In a fundraising letter, Brannon said a “culture of corruption” would make Tillis “unelectable” against Hagan. “The Democrat attack machine,” he wrote, “will make easy pickings of his candidacy.”
Like Brannon, Harris’ campaign hit Tillis on several points, including his 2012 decision to give severance pay to two staffers involved in sex scandals.
Perdue, the Harris consultant, declined to release the full poll questions. But he did read one question aloud. It asked if voters would be more or less inclined to vote for Tillis if they knew that:
• Tillis claimed he knew nothing about a “staff sex scandal” in his legislative office.
• He solicited campaign contributions from “homosexual activists.”
• He said the constitutional ban on gay marriage could be overturned in 20 years.
• He gave “high-level appointments” to campaign donors who gave $100,000 to his campaign.
In 2012, Tillis gave more than $19,000 in severance pay to two House staffers who’d been caught in sex scandals. He defended the payments, saying among other things that the two staffers had periodically worked without pay.
Tillis stood to get financial help from Paul Singer, a hedge fund bil-lionaire and GOP donor who supports gay rights. Tillis has said he disagrees with Singer’s position on that issue but agrees with him on fiscal policy.
Last year the House appointed three people to the UNC Board of Governors who donated $70,000 to a super PAC supporting Tillis, though independent of his campaign.
Harris has rarely talked about that. But campaigning at a Moore County church this month, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an Observer clip on the appointment.