Republican Sen. Thom Tillis launched the first ad of his re-election campaign Tuesday, touting President Donald Trump’s endorsement as well as his support of Tillis’ bill to force sheriffs to work with federal immigration officials.
Tillis’ campaign said it’s spending $2.2 million on the ad, which will run through the March 3 primary. That represents half of the $4.4 million that the campaign had on hand at the end of June.
The ad takes aim at potential Democratic rivals but also appears designed to blunt criticism from within his own party.
When Tillis was introduced at Trump’s Fayetteville rally last week for Republican Dan Bishop, some in the audience booed. And polls have shown him in trouble with some GOP voters.
A Morning Consult Poll in April showed him with the second-lowest approval among Republicans of any GOP senator facing re-election. And an August survey by Public Policy Polling showed 34% of Republican voters with a favorable view of Tillis compared with 38% with an unfavorable view.
The ad uses footage of the president from a July rally in Greenville.
“He’s been a warrior, really a warrior, when we needed him most,” Trump says in the ad. “Make sure he gets re-elected.”
Trump is clearly popular with Republicans. The PPP poll showed him with support from 86% of the state’s GOP voters. His support is widely credited with helping 9th District Republican Dan Bishop win last week’s special election.
“If anyone needed a sign that Tillis is vulnerable in a primary, this ad is a flashing red light,” said analyst Jennifer Duffy of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “But Trump’s endorsement carries a lot of weight with the base and the early deployment of significant advertising dollars might mitigate the threat posed by Tillis’ primary opponents. At the same time, it will make it more difficult for him to move toward the center in the general election.”
Tillis faces primary challenges from Pitt County farmer Sandy Smith and retired Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker. Carter Wrenn, Tucker’s consultant, dismissed Tillis’s new ad.
“He’s collapsed in the polls with Republicans and now he’s trying to tell them that he loves Trump. That’s just Washington politics,” Wrenn said. “The problem Tillis has is primary voters know what his records is. They see it as phony.”
Tucker has sought to capitalize on Tillis’ early opposition to Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border. Tillis made the case in a February column in the Washington Post. He later reversed himself and voted for the declaration.
Tucker also has criticized Tillis for once opposing Trump on foreign aid and for sponsoring a measure with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and two other senators to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Garland Tucker has spent over a $1 million with false attacks on Sen. Tillis in order to cover up for his anti-Trump, pro-swamp record,” said Tillis spokesman Andrew Romeo. “As North Carolinians become aware of the real Garland Tucker, the commitment Sen. Tillis has to advancing President Trump’s agenda, and the support President Trump has shown for Sen. Tillis, primary voters will overwhelmingly support our campaign.”
The Tillis campaign and its allies have called Tucker as an “anti-Trump activist” for a September 2016 column he wrote for The News & Observer in which he called Trump a “flawed” candidate but said he would vote for him over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump praised Tillis not only in Greenville but at last week’s Fayetteville rally. At both rallies he touted the bill Tillis introduced in July that would force local law enforcement officials to comply with detainer requests from federal immigration authorities or face possible civil action by victims and the loss of federal grants.
The bill came shortly after a high-profile case in Mecklenburg County. Sheriff Garry McFadden was among several N.C. sheriffs elected last fall after promising to limit their collaboration with ICE. Luis Pineda-Ancheta, a 37-year-old Honduran, was arrested twice in May on charges related to domestic violence and twice released from jail after posting bond.
Following his first arrest, ICE issued a detainer — a request to hold a suspect in jail until ICE officers can take custody — that was ignored. He was eventually arrested by ICE.
“Democrats support deadly sanctuary cities which release violent criminal aliens onto our streets,” Trump said in Greenville.
Cal Cunningham, one of a handful of Democrats running for Tillis’ seat, downplayed the president’s support for Tillis.
“We deserve an independent senator who focuses less on winning a pat on the back from party leaders in Washington and more on fighting for the people in North Carolina,” Cunningham said in a statement.
In an interview with WRAL TV last week, Tillis defended his record — and the president.
“I believe the reason the president endorsed me is because he knows that I think the tax burden is too great on businesses and individuals and I voted for historic tax cuts,” Tillis said, “. . . because he knows that I want to secure the border and I want to reform the immigration system. . . and I worked hard to get Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Gorsuch, and 25% of the Circuit Court of Appeals, his nominations confirmed.”