Decision 2020: Thom Tillis vs. Cal Cunningham (NC Senate)

Alex Shultz ’21

Not only will North Carolina play a significant role as a swing state in the presidential election, it will also determine what the next Senate will look like. With the Republicans holding a slight 53-47 majority, both the Republican and Democratic parties are closely watching the Senate race unfold in this swing state. The incumbent, Senator Thom Tillis, is finishing up his first term in office, having been elected in 2015. His challenger, Cal Cunningham, is considered a strong pick for Democrats to run in a Republican leaning state to cut into the Republican Senate majority (Slodysko, Robertson).

Cal Cunningham. Graysonbarnette, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Cal Cunningham was seen as one of the best candidates the Democratic Party put forward this election cycle, especially in a swing state like North Carolina. Cunningham was a born and raised North Carolinian and decided to join the U.S. Army Reserve after the September 11th attacks. Cunningham has served three tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star during his time. Furthermore, Cunningham is running on issues including reforming education, immigration, and the criminal justice system.

Senator Thom Tillis is running his first reelection campaign this year after winning his first senatorial race in 2014. Senator Tillis has been running his campaign on President Trump’s support and the Republican Party in North Carolina, as President Trump won the state by 3.6 points in the 2016 presidential election. Senator Tillis is also trying to use his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm the nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With a Supreme Court vacancy on the line in this election, Senator Tillis is hoping his role in that process will drum up support for himself in the election.

Thom Tillis. Jackson A. Lanier, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Although the race has been close without much change in the last few months, the stakes in October have only gotten higher for a race that nearly $100 million has been spent on television ads so far. (Duehren, Ngo). On October 2, Senator Tillis was diagnosed with COVID-19 after attending an event at the White House. It was assumed this would affect Tillis in the polls, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world. However, soon after Tillis’s diagnosis, it was revealed that Cunningham had an extramarital affair with a colleague of his campaign. With Cunningham running a campaign on values and wanting to bring honesty back to the senate, Tillis is using all the ammunition given to him from this scandal that Cunningham created himself. Although most voters in North Carolina have their minds made up and the race is in a deadlock, the ramifications of the events that took place for Tillis and Cunningham could not come at a more crucial time. With just over three weeks until election day, it looks as if Tillis and Cunningham are going to be in one of the uglier political fights of this election cycle. When all is said and done, the race for the senate seat will most likely follow in the presidential race path, leaving both candidates hoping for a large turnout from their respective parties.