NC House Speaker Tillis running for US Senate
RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis said Thursday he plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan next year, making him the first high-profile Republican to announce a bid.
Tillis, a four-term legislator from suburban Charlotte who has led the chamber since 2011, told the Associated Press in an interview he will file campaign committee paperwork in Washington early next week.
Tillis, who had been considered a potential candidate for months, said he’s seeking the GOP nomination because he’s proved he can work with Democrats to get things done in Raleigh. He said he can do the same thing in Washington, even as a first-termer, should he win in November 2014.
“I see a government that’s broken. They’re not making any progress and the president is taking us in the wrong direction,” Tillis told the AP. Tillis said wresting the seat from Hagan is needed to help create a Republican majority in the chamber and help “turn the country in the right direction.”
Hagan has sounded the clarion for bipartisanship, meeting frequently with Senate Republicans to find consensus. But Tillis said gridlock in Washington continues. Tillis said he proved with the passage of state budgets in 2011 and 2012 – approved over Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto objections with the help of House Democrats – that he can make significant changes in government.
“The difference between Sen. Hagan and me is that she has tried and failed, and I have tried and succeeded,” he said.
Several well-known Republicans are eyeing the race, including state Senate leader Phil Berger and U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx and Renee Ellmers. So is Southern Baptist leader the Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte. Only tea party favorite and physician Greg Brannon of Cary had publicly joined the race.
Tillis, 52, was one of the architects of the 2010 campaign that gave Republicans control of both chambers of the state legislature simultaneously for the first time since 1870.
A prolific fundraiser for legislative races, the former IBM consultant traveled the state for more than a year recruiting candidates, bringing with it loyalty and his election as speaker in 2011. He held dozens of town hall meetings statewide in late 2011 and early 2012, which raised his own profile among grassroots Republicans.
Tillis is viewed as a moderate within his party, someone more aligned with North Carolina’s business community than social conservatives. But he won allies by working with conservative Democrats and Republicans to pass abortion restrictions in 2011 and place on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions. Voters passed the amendment by a wide margin in May 2012.
“I’m a free market, ‘limited government first’ conservative,” Tillis said, but “I embrace social conservative values. I’m pro-family. I’m pro-life.”
Democrats and liberal-leaning advocates have blamed Tillis and other Republican legislative leaders for policies they say have eroded public education and moved North Carolina far to the right. They also point to the General Assembly’s refusal to, mostly with federal dollars, expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of uninsured people through the Affordable Care Act.
Tillis criticized Hagan on Thursday for her 2010 vote for the federal health care overhaul.
The House speaker “has made a mess in Raleigh – imagine what he’d do in Washington,” state Democratic Party spokesman Ben Ray said in a release. “Tillis has ignored North Carolina job creation and the middle class.”
For weeks, the state NAACP has been leading protests in Raleigh against what it considers the legislature’s extreme conservatism. Tillis called such accusations “predictable political theater” from opponents about legislation that received bipartisan support.
Hagan, a former state senator from Greensboro, received 53 percent of the vote in 2008 in unseating Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, an upset attributed in part to the strong showing of then-candidate Barack Obama in North Carolina. Hagan’s seat is one of four held by Democrats in states that Republican Mitt Romney won last year that national GOP leaders are aiming to pick up to take control of the Senate in 2015.
It’s likely to take more than $10 million of fundraising by a successful candidate to win next year. A super PAC already has been organized by Tillis’ supporters.
Tillis said Thursday he will remain in his House seat and the speaker’s post for the rest of his two-year term through 2014. He had already announced this term would be his last in the chamber. Paul Shumaker, a consultant for Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, will serve in the same capacity for Tillis.
Tillis, who is married with two adult children, spent two or three months examining a potential bid. Tillis said he finalized his decision over the Memorial Day weekend.
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