Dueling ads give preview of Hagan-Tillis race for Senate

First Posted: 4/18/2014

RALEIGH — In a foretaste of a potential General Election matchup, Democratic U.S. Senate Kay Hagan and Republican rival Thom Tillis released dueling ads Thursday about the health care law and a messy personnel matter in the office of Tillis, the state House speaker.

Hagan released her first commercial in her bid to win re-election, a statewide radio spot criticizing Tillis, even though he’s just one of eight candidates in the May 6 GOP primary. Tillis is the primary’s leading fundraiser and has support of Republican legislative leaders in Washington.

Hagan’s ad assails the state House speaker for his comments on the health care overhaul law. It also takes issue with publicly-funded severance packages he allowed for two workers in the speaker’s office who resigned because of inappropriate relationships with lobbyists.

“Our tax dollars, bailing out the indiscretions of Thom Tillis’ staff,” a narrator in the ad says. “Those may be values, but they’re not North Carolina’s.”

The radio ad came a day after the Washington-based Senate Majority PAC began spending nearly $1 million for a TV ad attacking Tillis on the personnel issues.

Tillis, who defended the severance totaling more than $19,000 in 2012, began airing his own commercial Thursday defending himself in the case and blaming the Senate Majority PAC and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for trying to affect the primary’s outcome. Tillis would need to receive more than 40 percent of the vote to avoid a July runoff.

“Reid’s trying to fool Republican voters, meddling in our primary to get a weak opponent for Kay Hagan,” the Tillis ad says.

Hagan’s ad and an accompanying release do not mention Tillis’ primary race. Her campaign said her ad was about countering ads already run by political groups supporting Tillis or attacking Hagan in North Carolina. The race is expected to be a bellwether on whether the Senate stays in Democratic hands or goes to the Republicans. Hagan has her own May primary against two little-known candidates.

“After more than $10 million has been spent by outside groups looking to defeat Kay, it’s time that Tillis’ record is set straight,” a campaign release said. Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said the ad is a “significant statewide radio buy.”

Hagan’s commercial in part seeks to convince viewers that Tillis is using double-talk on the federal health care overhaul. Tillis and his allies have criticized Hagan, who voted for the law.

Tillis has said he wants to repeal the law but thinks there are some good provisions within in it. The Hagan ad uses a radio interview in which he said “it’s a great idea,” although it leaves out his full comment that “it’s a great idea that can’t be paid for.”

In Tillis’ ad, the narrator says Hagan’s assertions about the personnel matter are false and that “Tillis fired the staffers” who later received the severance.

However, at the time of their termination, the two employees — Charles Thomas and Amy Hobbs — said they were resigning. Tillis also said in a 2012 release that he “accepted the resignation” of Thomas.

Tillis campaign spokesman Jordan Shaw defended the firing language in the ad, saying “the action initiated by Speaker Tillis resulted in the termination of their employment.”

Also Thursday, the campaign of Republican Senate hopeful Greg Brannon confirmed he’s now running an ad on the cable Fox News network statewide and on radio. The largely biographical commercial says Brannon would work to repeal the health care law and talks of his endorsements by tea party favorites Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee.