NC Conservatives Call Out Tillis for Avoiding Candidate Forums

Wednesday, 05 Feb 2014 12:49 PM

By Melanie Batley

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Conservative activists in North Carolina are angry that Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis has been absent from key campaign events, and say his apparent unwillingness to appear alongside his opponents could cost him support in the crowded primary field.

According to The Hill, the North Carolina state House speaker has been avoiding the GOP base, having skipped four candidate forums and angering tea party supporters as well as establishment Republicans.

"He has high negatives with the primary voters, and they get higher every time we see an empty chair at these forums. It shows he's not willing to take the time to talk to us and explain his views," Sharon Hudson, co-founder of the Lake Norman Conservatives, told The Hill.

"The activists and primary voters in North Carolina are used to being able to see our candidates and talk to them. He thinks it's in his best interest not to go to forums. It's clearly his strategy, but I think there's a good chance it could backfire."

Tillis is currently considered the GOP front-runner in the race to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, whose recent disapproval rating has reached almost 50 percent, said a recent poll.

The survey also showed her running neck-and-neck in match-ups with all of her potential primary opponents, even though she has a significant financial advantage with $6.8 million cash-on-hand. Tillis has just $1.3 million in the bank but has raised more than all of his primary opponents.

Tillis' decision to avoid the events could be part of a strategy to stay above the fray, causing primary voters to be split among his more conservative opponents. He might also be trying to avoid missteps that could dent his standing in a general election, according to The Hill.

Three of the four events Tillis skipped were organized by tea party activists, but his recent absence at a forum hosted by the Forsyth County Republican Party upset establishment Republicans, forcing his campaign to promise he would attend more events with other candidates before the May primary.

"There's some real risk to this [strategy]," Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, told The Hill. "The people who will show up to vote in the primary are the partisans, the intensely motivated individuals. And if he's not addressing that core base, who is he addressing? Because the other candidates are."

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