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.) said Friday he “fell short” of his own standard when he did not wear a face mask at the White House for President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims 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.
"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.
I am honored to be in Washington for President @realDonaldTrump's acceptance speech for the @GOP nomination, where he will share with America our continued vision of freedom, prosperity, and opportunity to live the American Dream. #RNC2020 pic.twitter.com/7wUptHJrL3— Thom Tillis (@ThomTillis) August 28, 2020
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.”