Tillis challenger dropping GOP primary bid in North Carolina

Tillis challenger dropping GOP primary bid in North Carolina
© Greg Nash

Raleigh, N.C., businessman Garland Tucker is dropping his bid for the Republican Senate nomination in North Carolina, clearing the path to the general election for Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (R-N.C.). 

In a letter to supporters, Tucker, who pumped more than $1.5 million of his personal fortune into his Senate bid, said that outside donations to his campaign have so far been insufficient and he could not continue to fund his operation at a high enough rate.


He also noted that he has not received campaign funding from national Republican and conservative groups, many of which have already backed Tillis’s reelection bid.

“I cannot continue to fund the campaign personally at the level of the past 7 months; donor contributions during the impeachment process have been insufficient to bridge the gap; and there is no access to national conservative funding,” Tucker said.

He said that his campaign would need another $2.5 million to make it through the primary. 

Tucker said his prospects were also overshadowed by the ongoing impeachment saga in Washington. He had hinged his campaign heavily on television and radio advertising, and with an impeachment inquiry raging on, he said “there are real questions as to how effective campaign advertising would be during the impeachment hearings.”

Tucker’s exit is welcome news for Tillis and national Republicans who had already backed the incumbent in the Senate race. Instead of having to fight off a primary challenge next year, Tillis will be able to focus the bulk of his resources on the general election and his eventual Democratic opponent.

“With our potential primary challenge behind us, it’s now time to turn our attention to building the diverse coalition necessary to defeat whichever radical, liberal nominee the Democrats put forward in March,” Tillis’s campaign manager Luke Blanchat said in a statement.

Two major candidates are vying for the Senate nomination on the Democratic side: former North Carolina state Sen. Cal Cunningham and state Sen. Erica Smith. Cunningham has already been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). 

Democrats see Tillis as increasingly vulnerable in 2020, when he faces the first reelection bid of his Senate career. A Morning Consult poll from July showed him with the lowest approval of any senator — just 33 percent — and he faced booing crowds at two of President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE’s rallies in North Carolina this year.

Tillis has come under scrutiny from some Republicans, who dubbed him insufficiently conservative after he penned an op-ed in The Washington Post earlier this year opposing Trump’s emergency declaration allowing construction to begin on a wall along the United States' southern border.

That opposition prompted Tucker to mount a primary challenge from the right of Tillis. Nevertheless, Tillis earned the coveted endorsement of Trump himself and recent polls showed him with a wide lead over Tucker, underscoring the difficult path the Raleigh businessman faced in his bid for the Republican nomination.

In his letter on Monday, Tucker said that the president’s endorsement of Tillis combined with the ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House made it “increasingly difficult to engage voters on Tillis’ senate record.”

“I had hoped the President would stay out of the primary, as customary, but in June he endorsed all incumbent senate Republicans including Tillis. This allowed Tillis to wrap himself in Trump’s endorsement and shift the focus of the senate race away from his own senate voting record.”