PINEHURST, N.C. — The North Carolina Republican Senate primary, less than a month away, has been an unusually low-key affair, with state House Speaker Thom Tillis working aggressively to avoid a runoff against seven lesser-known challengers.
But one of his leading challengers, Rev. Mark Harris, is hoping to stir things up and is planning to repeatedly criticize Tillis's decision to remain as House Republican leader while running for the Senate. Tillis is able to raise money for his Senate campaign from lobbyists with interests before the state's General Assembly, but it's illegal to raise such funds for his state legislative campaigns.
Framing the speaker's conduct as "pay to play," Harris suggested the activity was unethical.
"It would have been better judgment for him to step down as speaker. It opens the door for questions of ethics to be raised," Harris told National Journal, arguing that it could become a glaring vulnerability if Tillis wins the GOP nomination against Sen. Kay Hagan. "If I had one thing to do differently [in the campaign], I would have demanded he step down as speaker in October."
Tillis has been touting himself as the most electable candidate at Republican events, including a Monday forum at the Pinehurst Resort — home of the 2014 U.S. Open — sponsored by the Moore (County) Republican Women. At the forum, Tillis announced his support today from National Right to Life, a major rebuke to Harris, who is running as the race's leading social conservative.
If Tillis doesn't win 40 percent of the vote in the May 6 primary, he will be forced into a runoff, one that would coincide with the next session of the General Assembly, which begins May 14.
"It's disappointing that instead of uniting conservatives, some campaigns are trying to use desperate and divisive tactics against other Republicans," said Tillis campaign manager Jordan Shaw. "Thom Tillis will remain focused on uniting conservatives and defeating Kay Hagan, and we are confident that that message will resonate with voters across North Carolina."
Harris also confirmed to NJ that his campaign would start airing ads this week — his first major ad buy of the campaign.