North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary

North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary
© Greg Nash

A Raleigh, N.C. businessman has filed to run against Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump pick for Fed seat takes bipartisan fire Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday Coronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 MORE (R-N.C.) for his seat in 2020, becoming the first Republican to mount a primary bid against the first-term senator.

Garland Tucker, who is the former CEO of an investment firm, filed his paperwork Monday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), according to the Raleigh News & Observer. An official campaign rollout is expected in the coming days, Carter Wrenn, a veteran Republican consultant who is advising Tucker, said.


Tillis, a former North Carolina state House speaker, was first elected to the Senate in 2014 when he notched a win over incumbent Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump MORE (D-N.C.). But he has angered some conservatives in recent years for breaking with President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE on certain issues.

As Democrats sought to pass a resolution condemning Trump’s emergency declaration at the U.S. southern border in February, Tillis initially said he planned to vote in favor of the measure, noting that he disagreed with the president on principle.

He eventually reversed course on the matter and voted against the resolution.

Wrenn said in a brief phone interview on Monday that Tillis had shown himself to be a typical “Washington politician” who is willing to vote in whichever way is politically convenient.

“When he looks at Tillis, Tillis is a Washington politician, who talks a good game, but when you look at how he votes it doesn’t match up,” Wrenn said, later adding that the first-term Republican senator has “his finger to the air and he flip flops” on the issues.

Wrenn described Tucker, a first-time candidate for public office, as an “old-fashioned conservative,” who “believes in less government, less spending, stronger defense [and] securing the border.”

Tucker’s expected primary challenge to Tillis comes as Democrats see North Carolina as an increasingly likely electoral target. The historically red state has become friendlier territory for Democrats in recent years and is expected to be a prime political battleground in 2020.

A handful of Democrats have already announced campaigns for the Senate seat, including former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller and state Sen. Erica Smith. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently rates the 2020 Senate race as “likely” Republican.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted Tucker as an "out-of-touch liberal" and criticized his anticipated primary challenge.

 “Senator Tillis has been a strong conservative fighter for North Carolina," NRSC press secretary Joanna Rodriguez told The Hill. "This will prove to be nothing more than a quixotic adventure for a wealthy, out-of-touch liberal who was talked into this by a past-his-prime political consultant looking for a paycheck.” 

Tucker adviser Wrenn dismissed the notion that putting up a primary challenge to Tillis could weaken the GOP’s chances of holding onto the Senate seat next year, insisting that Republican voters would ultimately coalesce around the eventual nominee.

“Republicans are going to unite against the Democrat in the fall period,” Wrenn said. “It’s a political argument, it’s not a real argument.”

--Updated 5:43 p.m.