N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis

N.C. House speaker officially launches U.S. Senate campaign

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

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RALEIGH — N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis embraced the Republican agenda he helped push through North Carolina state government and criticized Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan’s record as he officially filed Wednesday for the U.S. Senate.

Tillis became the seventh person to enter the GOP primary by turning in candidacy papers at the State Board of Elections. The suburban Charlotte business consultant has raised the most money so far and has the highest electoral profile among the Republican candidates. The filing deadline is Friday.

Tillis credited the GOP program he vowed to implement in North Carolina when he was elected speaker three years ago with bringing fiscal stability to state government, putting more money in people’s pockets and helping reduce the unemployment rate. He said he would work for similar things in Washington.

“The campaign is going to be about the positive change that we made in North Carolina since we were blessed with the majorities back in 2011,” Tillis told about 40 supporters after he filed. “It’s the difference in North Carolina where we’re reducing taxes, and we’re reducing regulations and (when) we make promises, we keep them, and the very opposite’s happening over in Washington.”

When Hagan filed earlier this week, she warned that if a Republican defeated her in November that North Carolina’s GOP agenda would come to Washington. She defined it as cuts in unemployment benefits and education, denying Medicaid expansion and scaled back voting rights.

“Unfortunately for North Carolina’s middle class families, that record is identical to a special interest agenda that has been devastating for everyone from workers to women and voters to teachers,” Hagan campaign communications director Sadie Weiner said in a news release.

The release also blamed Tillis for getting a law passed to halt state funding for Planned Parenthood.

The race for Hagan’s seat is expected to be among the most expensive in the country and could determine whether Democrats can hold onto a majority in the chamber. First, Republicans must choose a nominee May 6, or possibly in a runoff in July.

Tillis said his Republican rivals will tell voters “about something they may do” but “I get to tell you about the things I have done as the speaker of the House.”

He said he looked forward to debates with other GOP candidates, although he’s been a no-show at other organized forums to date.

As for Hagan, Tillis accused the Greensboro Democrat of campaigning like a conservative Democrat but then pushing the policies of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama after she was elected in 2008.

“Sen. Hagan has a very long list of unfulfilled promises,” Tillis said, pointing to the health care overhaul law Hagan voted for. “She said if you want to keep your policy, you could. If you want to keep your doctor, you could. Those promises have been broken.”

Hagan noted legislation that would allow consumers to keep their previous coverage but sidestepped questions Monday about when she knew the massive cancellations would occur. Tillis wants to repeal the federal health care overhaul law like most of his Republican rivals.

Tillis also said he has got “serious concerns” about current efforts on Capitol Hill to raise the minimum wage to over time from $7.25 per hour to $10.10. Hagan supports a minimum wage increase.

“Obviously we want people to be paid a wage that can help make ends meet, but when you raise artificially the cost of labor to do a job than oftentimes those jobs will just go away,” he said.

Tillis added that the market should determine wage rates but a minimum wage is likely to stay in place: “You can’t un-ring that bell.”

Democrats have lamented about television ad buys valued at several million dollars by third-party groups critical of Hagan on the health care law. Hagan suggested “outsiders” are trying to buy the seat for Republicans.

Tillis said similar left-leaning political action committees are running their own ads. He defended getting support from out-of-state donors who agree with him on at least some policies.

“This is a very expensive race,” he said.