Thom Tillis getting his first serious 2020 challenger

Updated 1/22 with Trevor Fuller announcement:

What’s a sure sign that you’re a vulnerable incumbent? When people start lining up to run for your job. So it was with President Donald Trump, who last week alone saw two more Democrats declaring their candidacy for president in 2020. So it might be, too, with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who’s about to get his first legitimate opponent in his reelection campaign.

On Tuesday morning, Mecklenburg County commissioner Trevor Fuller announced that he’s running for Tillis’ seat. Fuller confirmed that announcement to the editorial board a week ago, after he sent out an invitation to friends and colleagues late asking them to join him “for a special announcement on how we will reclaim America together.”

Fuller, in his fourth term on the board of commissioners, is a somewhat unlikely Senate hopeful. Few candidates attempt the jump from county politics to Washington, and Fuller is only moderately popular in Mecklenburg – he’s never finished higher than second in his four races for at-large seats. But he would check a few important boxes for statewide voters, including a strong record on progressive issues, such as being the driving force behind Mecklenburg’s universal pre-K initiative.

“We’ve had a senator who’s unwilling to stand up for our state and our values,” he said Monday.

Fuller actually will be the second candidate to declare against Tillis – Raleigh tax attorney Eva Lee, who has never run for public office, filed to run back in 2017 but has no apparent fundraising on record since. Fuller will instantly be seen as a more legitimate challenger, and in sprinting to the front of the Democratic line, he clearly hopes to discourage others from filing. It likely won’t work, as Democrats across the state have been speculating about candidates and perhaps considering running against the vulnerable Republican.

Tillis, for his part, clearly senses the peril he and other Republicans face in 2020 given the unpopularity of Trump in swing states. Already, Tillis is trying to move toward the political center, with a slew of recent statements – and an op-ed in The Hill – attempting to position himself as a moderate in polarized Washington. Will it work? Fuller, and probably several others, will try to find out.