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Tillis Has Fine Line To Walk To Reelection In 2020


North Carolina will be more than just a top battleground state for next year’s presidential election.  Because almost every state and federal office is on the ballot, North Carolina will be a battleground for much, much more.  One race in particular will get a lot of attention not just within the state but also the whole country – North Carolina’s U.S. Senate election.

Republican Thom Tillis will seek a second term next year, but his road to victory will be a difficult one.  In part, that’s because of Tillis’ alignment with President Trump – or at times, a lack of alignment, namely on the president’s emergency declaration to build the border wall. 

After an event at Asheville Regional Airport last month, Tillis offered up a defense of President Trump after impeachment inquiry hearings that didn’t focus on his alleged actions.  “My biggest concern to this point has been how the inquiry has gone forward," Tillis told reporters November 22nd.  "It’s very different from President Clinton’s and President Nixon’s.”

Tillis has two GOP primary challengers already, Garland Tucker and Sandy Smith (UPDATE: Monday 8:00 p.m. - Tucker dropped out of the race).  Both are staunch supporters of the president.  Should he get through them, he has another challenge waiting for him.

“His polling numbers are frankly not that good," says Dr. Chris Cooper, the head of the political science department at Western Carolina University.  Cooper notes several national political outlets - Politico being the most recent - have labeled Tillis one of if not the most vulnerable incumbent U.S. Senator on the ballot next across the country. 

“This is a tough time to be a Republican in a purple state," Cooper says.  "(Tillis) has tried to be an independent, but at the same time he’s alienated some of the base of his own party.  With polling numbers, we sort of take for granted your own party is going to be on your side…maybe that isn’t true for Tillis as it is for some other Republicans.”

Several Democrats are running for their party’s nomination to face Tillis, headlined by current state senator Erica Smith and former state senator Cal Cunningham.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.