It has been a rough few days for the Thom Tillis machine. Tillis pushed through a N.C. House budget that seeks to double the amount of money the state lottery can spend on advertising, in order to convince North Carolinians to gamble more. This move brought loud criticism when it was learned that the N.C. Education Lottery had warned legislative staffers that the House’s plan to boost lottery sales by doubling the advertising budget would generate only $59 million next year, not even close to the $106 million designated in the budget. To add to the bad press, Tuesday saw an op-research dump that resulted in a clip from 2012 surfacing in which Speaker Tillis bemoaned that the “traditional” population in North Carolina was not growing, unlike African-American and Hispanic populations.
Talking Points Memo reported that when Carolina Business Review host Chris William interviewed Speaker Tillis, the reporter asked him why Hispanics that voted for President George W. Bush were not supporting then-nominee Mitt Romney. According to Thom Tillis, the change was not about the Republican message, rather it was about shifting demographics in the United States and the growth of minority populations, particularly Latino.
Unlike the “traditional population,” Speaker Tillis opined that the “African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers.” If by “traditional population” Tillis did not mean Native Americans from Manteo to the Smokies, then one must assume he means white people.
“If you take a look, you mentioned the Hispanic population – the African American population, there’s a number of things that our party stands for that they embrace,” he explained. “I think we have to do a better job of communicating it.”
“The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable,” the state House Speaker continued. “It’s not growing.”
Talking Points Memo was able to obtain a statement from Tillis’ office. Tillis campaign communications director, Daniel Keylin, told TPM that “traditional” meant “North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations.”
“A lot of the state’s recent population growth is from people who move from other states to live, work, and settle down in North Carolina. Thom Tillis for example,” Keylin insisted to the website.
This comes at a tough moment for Tillis following the House budget that managed to push the wrong kind of buttons on the right and the left in an attempt to use hoped for lottery receipts to cover the cost of a modest raise for North Carolina’s teachers. The teacher took umbrage. Groups who represent the poor and working class pointed out that it would disproportionately affect that segment of the population,much as ending the Earned Income Tax Credit did.
Possibly worse for Tillis is the fact that many on the religious right feel he showed them disdain with the proposal, as they had opposed the lottery in the first place as gambling. The lottery scheme came merely days after the state Republican Party met at a casino and reaffirmed its platform opposing gambling in all forms, including the North Carolina lottery. Tillis has not yet been able to open up a big lead on Democrat Kay Hagan in spite of the fact that since the beginning of the year, Republicans have spent more than $13 million on the contest. Democrats have spent around $11 million to defend Hagan. With that kind of money on the table, gaffes such as these can dig major holes for a candidate heading into summer.
Coverage on TPM HERE.
See full text of comments below clip. Relevant exchange begins around 2:45.
William: Let’s start fairly broad with the Republican Party. You watch— and probably see many more— polls than I do or we do in general. When you watch what’s happening in presidential politics. When you see this shift that Hispanics used to be in the Republican Party and now they’re clearly on the other side of the aisle —when you see all of these things that have transpired, what do you think about? what is going on in the Republican Party?
Tillis: Well I think it has more to do what’s going on in the demographics of this country and recognizing that and then having a platform and a message that resonates. If you take a look, you mentioned the Hispanic population —the African American population, there’s a number of things that our party stands for that they embrace. I think we have to do a better job of communicating it. I think we have to do a better job of being out there in between elections, garnering support for the things that we’re trying to advance. And I think that we need a focus on limited government and free markets which is something that’s appealing to everybody. That kind of work will position us for those growing sectors. The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. We’ve got to resonate with those future voters.