UPDATED 12/17: Mark Walker announced that he will not be running for public office in 2020.
Since the opening date for candidate filings just over a week ago, several Democrats have filed to run for Republican Thom Tillis’ Senate seat.
Tillis looking vulnerable
The run for Tillis’ seat comes at a time when the senator — who has held one of the two Republican-held Senate seats since 2015 — is looking vulnerable.
Despite voting with Donald Trump’s positions 92 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight, Tillis is listed as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators going into the 2020 election. The website, along with Politico, Roll Call, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, all rate the race as a toss-up while the Cook Political Report has the race leaning Republican. Tillis’ vulnerability stems from his reluctance to lend vocal support to some of Trump’s more controversial policies, most notably, his emergency declaration to build a wall along the southern border. After initially stating that he wouldn’t support the wall, Tillis reversed his opinion, voting in favor of the measure just one week later.
So far, five Democrats and one Republican have filed to run for Tillis’ Senate seat. Republican Garland Tucker announced that he was dropping his primary challenge against Tillis on Dec. 2, stating in an article by Politico that “he would need an additional $2.5 million to finish the primary race and could not continue funding the campaign personally at the same level.”
Given the newly drawn 6th congressional district, which favors Democrats now, several news reports indicated that Rep. Mark Walker may be considering a run against Tillis for the congressional seat. Walker, who has represented the district since 2015, is an aggressive Trump supporter, voting with the president 93.5 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. Walker previously supported the NC General Assembly’s the anti-transgender bathroom bill in 2016, opposed the Affordable Care Act and was one of only 33 Republican representatives who voted against stopgap federal funding in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Walker was also considering challenging neighboring more-conservative districts such as Republican Patrick McHenry’s 10th District or Ted Budd’s 13th District.
UPDATED 12/17: However, on Dec. 16, Walker was quoted in Politico as stating that he would not run for office in 2020. Instead, he said that he has his sights set on a 2022 Senate run.
“I believe the best way we can continue to serve the people of North Carolina is as a United States senator,” Walker said in article. “As I have always sought to have serving people supersede our ambition, I will dedicate my full heart and efforts to finishing my term in Congress. After we have secured more conservative policy and Republican electoral victories for North Carolina, we will take a look at the 2022 Senate race, and we are thankful to have President Trump’s support.”
Without the possibility of Walker running, Sandy Smith is currently the only Republican to run against Tillis on the Republican side. Smith who hails from Winterville, has no political background and describes herself as “pro-Trump” on her campaign website. In addition to supporting the president, Smith’s website also describes her as a supporter of tax cuts, gun rights, stricter policies for immigration and as pro-life. According to the Federal Election Commission, Smith has raised $265,001 so far and has $66,471 cash on hand.
Tillis has held the position since 2015, when he won against Democrat Kay Hagan by about 1.5 percent. The election made headlines at the time for its highly contentious manner and its record-setting spending by outside groups. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government, the candidates and outside organizations spent a total of $108 million, making it the most expensive campaign in Senate history.
On the Democrat side, Trevor Fuller from Charlotte, Steven Swenson from Bunnlevel, Cal Cunningham and Atul Goel — both from Raleigh — and Erica Smith from Gaston have all filed to run.
While Swenson and Goel are political newcomers, Fuller, Cunningham and Smith all have prior experience in government.
By far the most watched candidate is Cunningham, who is running for the Senate for the second time. Born in Winston-Salem and raised in Lexington, Cunningham was elected to the state Senate in 2000, representing District 23. In 2010, Cunningham filed to run for the US Senate against Richard Burr and lost in the primary runoff election to Elaine Marshall, who was ultimately defeated by Burr. According to his website, Cunningham has prioritized affordable healthcare, education, climate change, gun violence and immigration as some of his key platforms. According to the Federal Election Commission, Cunningham has raised $1.7 million for his Senate race thus far and has $1.1 million cash on hand. In comparison, Tillis has raised $7.7 million and has $4.9 million in cash on hand.
During his 2014 campaign against Hagan, Tillis won after raising $11 million despite Hagan having raised a whopping $24.8 million. Since Tucker’s decision to drop out from the race, Tillis and Cunningham have raised the most money for the 2020 campaign. A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling from September showed Cunningham leading Tillis by two points, 45-43 percent.
State senator Erica Smith is also no stranger to politics. She has represented the District 3 in the eastern part of the state, which includes Beaufort, Martin, Bertie and Northampton counties, since 2015. In the past year, Smith sponsored 27 bills including a bill to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment as well as a bill to establish a citizens redistricting commission.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Smith has raised $133,801 — about a tenth of Cunningham’s total — for her campaign and has $55,681 cash on hand. According to her website, Smith is prioritizing economic expansion, environmental stewardship, education equity and healthcare.
Trevor Fuller is a former chair of the Mecklenburg county commissioners and has raised $31,598 for his campaign so far. According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, Fuller supports early childhood education, sensible immigration reform, higher minimum wage and improvements to the Affordable Care Act.
The battle for the new 6th Congressional District
The approval of the new congressional maps for the 2020 congressional elections by judges on Dec. 2 sets up a battle for the new 6th Congressional District, which includes all of Guilford County and most of Forsyth County, including Winston-Salem. The new map gives Democrats two additional seats across the state and the new district favors Democratic candidates. According to an article in The Hill, the old district gave Trump 56 percent of the vote in 2016, but under the newly drawn lines, Hillary Clinton would have won the district by a 20-percent margin.
Currently, the 6th District is represented by Republican Mark Walker but as of the writing of this article, Walker has not yet filed to run in the newly drawn up district.
Among the field of Democrats is Kathy Manning, who lost against Ted Budd for the 13th congressional district seat in 2018.
Despite her loss just one year ago, Manning managed to close the gap as the Democratic nominee during her run in 2018. Now Manning is running in the newly drawn district which is more urban and thus more progressive than the district for which she ran last year, giving her, as well as other Democrats, an edge against Republican opponents. According to the Federal Election Commission, Manning has raised $51,615. Her campaign website cites her past experience working for several nonprofit organizations in Greensboro and her support for the new Tanger Performing Arts Center. For her platform, she lists good-paying jobs, affordable and accessible healthcare, and education and training for workers.
Two other Democrats besides Manning — Bruce Davis and Derwin — have either filed to run or stated that they will run in the new 6th District.
Davis, a High Point native and former three-term Guilford County commissioner has run unsuccessful campaigns for the state’s 6th District in 2014 and the 13th District in 2016. In 2016, he was the Democratic nominee, losing eventually to Republican nominee Ted Budd by 13 points.
Derwin Montgomery, who currently represents state House District 72 on the north side of Winston-Salem, expressed his intent to run for the congressional seat on Facebook. In a post on Dec. 5, Montgomery stated that he will take his experience as a state lawmaker to bring change as a congressman.
“I have been an active and effective representative for my constituents,” Montgomery wrote in his post. “Listening to people, working across differences, standing up for what is right, and creating lasting change have been hallmarks of my leadership. I will do the same in Congress.”