Tillis says he 'fell short' by not wearing mask for Trump speech

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden Collins: Winner of presidential election will be sworn in next year MORE (R-N.C.) said Friday he “fell short” of his own standard when he did not wear a face mask at the White House for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE’s speech accepting the GOP nomination for reelection.

Tillis, who is in the midst of his own fierce reelection fight against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D-N.C.), used his mea culpa to accept responsibility and go on the offensive against his opponent.

“I’ve stressed the importance of mask wearing throughout this pandemic and have tried to lead by example on this issue, but last night I fell short of my own standard," Tillis said in a statement.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The difference between Cal Cunningham and I is that I can accept responsibility for my actions, while he lies and makes excuses for his, like how he has misused taxpayer dollars for his own personal gain and broke his promise not to raise taxes on hardworking North Carolinians,” he added.

Tillis released the statement amid criticism from Cunningham and North Carolina Democrats who accused the senator of hypocrisy for not wearing a mask during Trump's entire speech at the Republican National Convention after he had touted the importance of wearing face masks in public.

Critics highlighted past remarks from the senator saying that “folks who are not wearing masks are really COVID’s best friend.” 

“This is blatant hypocrisy from Senator Tillis,” said Kate Frauenfelder, a spokeswoman for Cunningham’s campaign. “His actions last night prove that his words were just political bluster, only to be used when it helps him politically but thrown to the wind when it means standing up to his own party.”

“Senator Tillis’ weak explanation raises more questions than it answers, chief among them whether he will get tested and whether he will suspend his in-person campaigning until he gets a negative test result,” added North Carolina Democratic party spokesperson Robert Howard.

Tillis had tweeted a photo Thursday night showing him wearing a mask when at the White House South Lawn for Trump's speech. At another point during the night, he was spotted among many other people in attendance sitting outside while not wearing a mask.

ADVERTISEMENT

The back-and-forth over masks come as the federal and state responses to the coronavirus are set to play an outsized role up and down the ballot this November as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic surges past 181,000. 

Tillis and Cunningham are locked in one of the tightest Senate races in the country, with the RealClearPolitics polling average showing the Democrat up nearly 5 points. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan handicapper, rates the race as a “toss up.”