North Carolina’s junior Sen. Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham, a lawyer and Army Reserve officer, battle for votes in a state race with much national interest.
This race is topping the charts on dollars spent in a race that could decide the balance of the U.S. Senate.
Thom Tillis, Incumbent Republican from Huntersville
Political experience: U.S. Senator since 2015. Tillis also served in the N.C. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2014. He was the speaker of the state House from 2011 to 2014. From 2003 to 2005 he was a member of the Cornelius County Board of Commissioners.
Education/personal: Tillis was born in Jacksonville, Florida. Throughout his childhood, his family moved many times with stints in New Orleans and Nashville, Tennessee. Tillis attended Chattanooga State Community College and received a B.A. from University of Maryland University College. He has worked for Providence Insurance, Wang Laboratories and Price Waterhouse before it became PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Campaign contributions: The Tillis campaign raised $13.752 million by June 30, according to OpenSecrets.org, and spent $7.356 million.
The senate race has generated much interest from outside Political Action Committees and so-called “dark-money groups,” whose donors do not have to be disclosed. Almost $141 million has been spent by the outside groups on advertising for the race, according to an analysis by OpenSecrets.org and The Charlotte Observer. That spending combined with the campaign’s spending on advertising tops $233 million, a record among Senate races.
Cal Cunningham, Democrat from Raleigh
Political experience: Cunningham was elected in November 2000 to the N.C. General Assembly as a state senator from a district that included swaths of Davidson, Iredell and Rowan counties. He came on board as the youngest legislator and served one term. Cunningham unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, losing in a Democratic primary runoff.
Education/personal: Cunningham received a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from UNC Chapel Hill, a Master of Science in public policy from the London School of Economics, and a law degree from the UNC-CH School of Law. He was born in Winston-Salem and grew up in Lexington. He is a lawyer and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He worked for seven years at WasteZero, an environmental services company, as a vice president of government affairs and general counsel.
Campaign contributions: As of June 30, according to OpenSecrets.org, the Cunningham campaign had raised $14.811 million and spent $8.194 million.
It has been widely reported that the Cunningham campaign raised $28.3 million in the third quarter.
The Affordable Care Act
In 2014, during his first Senate run, Tillis campaigned against the Affordable Care Act, saying it should be repealed. Before his official campaign began, Tillis called Obamacare a “mortal threat to our economy,” he said in a statement reported by The Hill. “Republicans should do everything in our power to undo it.”
While in office he has voted for seven efforts to repeal or gut it.
Cunningham acknowledged that North Carolinians struggle with the rising cost of premiums, co-pays and prescription drugs. He has noted that more than 1 million people in North Carolina have no coverage at all.
Cunningham said he would fight to strengthen and extend coverage under the Affordable Care Act by adding a public health insurance option, according to his campaign spokesman.
“Cal knows our health care system isn’t perfect and there are real issues Congress needs to work together to fix,” Aaron Simpson, his campaign spokesman, said in an email. “He will oppose any effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gut protections for people who have a pre-existing medical condition. In the Senate, he will also do everything he can to stop the dangerous lawsuit pushed forward by Washington Republicans that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its protections.”
Tillis has said often that he believes life starts at conception and did so again on Thursday during a Senate Judiciary hearing on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat held by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month.
Tillis issued a news release in February touting his support for the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act and Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, neither of which passed the Senate.
Both bills were focused on abortions that happen late in pregnancy, an exceedingly rare procedure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the bills would have banned abortions after 20 weeks with a few exceptions such as in cases of rape. The other would subject physicians and healthcare practitioners to potential prison time and fines if they failed to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion” if it had been determined that a baby would not be viable outside the womb and labor was induced.
Cunningham said he supports a woman’s choice as a woman’s right, according to his campaign spokesman, and would look to confirm judges who will uphold Roe v. Wade as law.
Tillis often wears face coverings, but recently tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a White House event to announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the U.S. Supreme Court held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Tillis wore a face mask during the outdoor ceremony but was photographed inside the White House talking with Barrett and one of her children without his mouth and nose covered. He told WRAL afterward that he should have worn his mask indoors, too, and would do so in the future.
“I have to admit that I let my guard down because we’d all been tested about two hours before the event,” Tillis told WRAL. “It’s just another experience that tells me, even when you think you’re in a safe setting, you should always wear a mask.”
Cunningham has said he supports a mask mandate.
North Carolina is one of 12 states that have not yet used a provision in the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid access to some 500,000 low-income North Carolinians who could qualify for the federal health care program but are ineligible because Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly have blocked the program.
Tillis, as a state lawmaker, was among those to block expansion.
Cunningham supports Medicaid expansion and has put Tillis on the spot over for his vote to block the federal aid that would pay nearly 90 percent of the cost while providers would pick up most of the remainder of the tab.
Cunningham also has called on Congress to pass an incentive in the next COVID-19 relief package for states that have not yet expanded Medicaid to do so, according to his campaign spokesman. The incentive would reinstate the 100 percent federal match regardless of when they expand.
Medicaid expansion is a key tool in the Affordable Care Act toolbox that Cunningham says he will fight to protect.
As rural hospitals suffer financial strains and curtail services or close across North Carolina, Cunningham said expanding Medicaid expansion would provide a revenue stream to those health care facilities and provide needed access to residents in some of the lower-income rural reaches. He also rates it as a measure that could help fight the opioid crisis.
Tillis supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which is a multi-layer strategy for tackling the opioid problem across the country.