Governor gives endorsement to Tillis
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory threw his full weight Tuesday behind Thom Tillis in the crowded U.S. Senate Republican primary, calling him a natural leader and problem solver who helped North Carolina's economic recovery and will do the same in Washington.
The Republican governor essentially gave his endorsement to Tillis at the same event where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave in person its previously disclosed endorsement of the state House speaker. Early in-person voting for the May 6 primary ends Saturday.
"I'm proud to announce that tomorrow I plan to vote on the ballot for Thom Tillis for the U.S. Senate," McCrory said inside a sheet metal fabrication plant in Raleigh. "And in November, I plan to vote for Thom Tillis for the U.S. Senate."
McCrory, who already said earlier this month Tillis had the best chance to defeat Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan, said he got involved in a party primary in part because so many people had asked his preference.
The leading primary candidate must receive more than 40 percent of the vote to avoid a costly mid-July runoff. McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, said he's friends with one of the other candidates, the Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte, with one of Harris' sons having worked on a McCrory campaign.
The GOP candidates have "all run very good campaigns, but this is an interview process for the people of North Carolina," he said. "And there's no doubt in my mind that Thom Tillis has risen to the top in this interview process."
Tillis, a former consultant at IBM, and McCrory have been close allies on most legislative issues since the governor took office in early 2013, particularly fiscal and business-related matters. McCrory discussed the state tax overhaul and unemployment insurance benefit reforms that he and the legislature helped pass and what they argue have contributed to a significantly lower jobless rate.
Tillis, who just wrapped up the last of three debates with three other candidates, thanked McCrory and the U.S. Chamber for their support and squared his focus upon Hagan. So did Chamber national political director Rob Engstrom, who called the Greensboro Democrat a "direct threat to the American free enterprise system" by supporting the federal health care overhaul law and for concepts or legislation proposing to cap a polluter's emissions.
North Carolina Republicans such as Tillis and McCrory, by contrast, have "let the engine of the American economy, the free enterprise system, drive the recovery here in North Carolina," Engstrom said on the floor of SMT Inc., which has more than 100 workers.
The Chamber separately announced it would run ads supporting Tillis in the primary's campaign final days. Engstrom said it was a large statewide ad buy but declined to give reporters a specific cost.
In a release, Hagan campaign spokesman Chris Hayden defended Hagan's work to help North Carolina small businesses grow and export products. He said the U.S. Chamber was endorsing a "special interest opponent" in Tillis "because of Kay's work for middle-class families to increase the minimum wage, ensure equal pay for women and shine a light on secretive spending in politics."
McCrory was already featured on a Tillis mailer quoting a newspaper story in which the governor said Tillis had the best chance to win in November. McCrory said Tuesday he'll support whoever wins the GOP primary in the fall.