Campaigns

Garland Tucker drops Senate primary challenge to North Carolina’s Thom Tillis

Self funding candidate had forced Tillis to spend money early

A self-funding primary challenger to North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis is dropping his challenge to the first-term senator. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Retired businessman Garland Tucker is not filing for Senate with the state Board of Elections on Monday, dropping his primary challenge to North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020.

Through a combination of loans and contributions, Tucker had given his campaign about $1.3 million by the end of September, which had forced Tillis to spend money early to build up his name recognition and base of support with conservatives. Tillis reserved more than $2 million earlier this year in TV advertising. Trump endorsed Tillis, but the first-term senator was still booed at the president’s most recent rally in the Tar Heel State.

But in a letter sent to his donors and obtained by CQ Roll Call, Tucker said that the campaign had become more challenging as of September and he did not have the funds to run a competitive race.

“I had hoped the President would stay out of the primary, as customary, but in June he endorsed all incumbent senate Republicans including Tillis,” Tucker wrote. “This allowed Tillis to wrap himself in Trump’s endorsement and shift the focus of the senate race away from his own senate voting record.”

Tucker said that the impeachment hearings made it harder for him to raise money and gain traction, in part because it gave Tillis an avenue to project his support for the president.

“Polling indicates over 90% of NC Republican primary voters support Trump, and impeachment has provided an ideal issue for Tillis to whitewash his record of flip-flops,” Tucker wrote. “Impeachment has dramatically sucked the oxygen out of our campaign discussion and greatly curtailed our fundraising ability.”

When Tucker, the retired chairman and CEO of Triangle Capital Corp., launched his campaign in May, it set off a back-and-forth between him and Tillis over who would be more loyal to Trump, who carried the state by 4 points in 2016. Tillis' high-profile switch on Trump's national emergency declaration fueled an early conservative backlash to him.

Tillis is no. 4 on Roll Call’s ranking of the 10 most vulnerable Senators. Army veteran Cal Cunningham is running with the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Despite not being a well-known name in the state, the former state senator raised nearly as much as Tillis in the third quarter. State Sen. Erica Smith is also running.

“Whether our general election opponent turns out to be the choice of Democratic primary voters, Erica Smith, or the choice of Chuck Schumer, Cal Cunningham, we will also spend the next few months holding them both accountable for the dangerous ideas being pushed by the presidential candidates in their party,” Tillis campaign manager Luke Blanchat said in a statement Monday.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election a Toss-up. 

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