RALEIGH — Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker announced last week that he will challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis in the 2020 GOP primary. Tucker made his official announcement on “The Sean Hannity Show” and has since began airing radio and television ads.
“The main reason I’m running is I’ve been disappointed in Sen. Tillis in particular, but also Congress in general,” Tucker said in an interview at his home in Raleigh. “And I think we need some more backbone in Congress to stand up on some important issues.”
Tucker spent his career in finance and served as CEO of three different companies, including Triangle Capital Corporation. He also has written two books, one on Calvin Coolidge and the election of 1924 and another titled “Conservative Heroes: Fourteen Leaders Who Shaped America, from Jefferson to Reagan.”
“I’ve never run for political office before, so I can legitimately say I’m not a politician. I’m not looking for another career,” Tucker said. “If I’m elected, I’m committing to one term, to six years of doing everything
I can to push back on Washington. I won’t spend one minute on a reelection campaign.”
Tucker, who was born in Wilson, said he was inspired to run due to his deep disappointment with Tillis.
“I was a Tillis supporter in 2014 and thought he ran on a very solid, conservative platform. I just feel like he hasn’t lived up to that platform,” Tucker said. “I encouraged (U.S. Rep.) Mark Meadows and others to run, but nobody stepped up, so I decided to take it on.”
Tucker said his impetus for running goes deeper than Tillis’ positions on President Donald Trump’s emergency border funding, which Tillis initially opposed but ended up backing. “The two main issues I have disagreements with him on are immigration and spending,” Tucker said.
“On immigration, he ran on a platform in 2014 of no amnesty, and barely got to Washington before he co-sponsored a bill that not only provided amnesty for the Dreamers but, where I really disagreed with him, was it provided a path to citizenship.
“On Trump’s funding, he did flip-flop back to the right side, but in the process, he indicated that he’s not very strong on immigration.” Tucker says mass deportation is not the answer but added, “It would be a huge mistake to offer citizenship to anyone who came here illegally. The economy needs immigrants, the country needs immigrants, but we need to control who comes in.”
But spending is where Tucker says his disagreements with Tillis are strongest. “Tillis ran in 2014 on a really good slogan of cap, cut and balance,” Tucker said. “He was going to stay within spending caps set in 2011. He was going to cut spending. He was going to balance the budget. “What’s happened since he’s been up there is he’s voted four times to increase the debt ceiling.
He’s voted four times to break the spending cap. He voted against Trump when Trump proposed cutting foreign aid 30 percent. He voted against Rand Paul’s Penny Plan to balance the budget in five years. He’s just had no backbone on spending.”
Tucker says his conservative philosophy will appeal to GOP primary voters in North Carolina. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the base that votes in a Republican primary in North Carolina is more conservative than Thom Tillis. That’s who we’re appealing to in this primary,” he said.
Tucker also noted that Tillis’ average ratings from the three main conservative groups in D.C. — Club for Growth, Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks — is 51 percent.
“If you want a half a conservative, vote for Thom Tillis,” Tucker said. “If you want someone who will be a 90-plus percent conservative, vote for me.”
Tillis has been active on the fundraising trail and is a regular guest on national political programs. The National Republican Senate Committee backed Tillis against Tucker’s challenge from the right. “Sen. Tillis has been a strong conservative fighter for North Carolina,” Joanna Rodriguez, press secretary of the NRSC, told The Hill. “This will prove to be nothing more than a quixotic adventure for a wealthy, out-of-touch liberal who was talked into this by a past-his-prime political consultant looking for a paycheck.” Tucker knows he has an uphill battle, particularly when it comes to fundraising. “There’s no questions that as an incumbent, Tillis is going to be well-funded,” he said. “He’s got access to a lot of PAC money. Our belief is, it’s probably going to take $5 or $6 million.”
Tucker says he will self-fund the start of his campaign and anticipates that the eventual GOP nominee will be well-supported. “Whoever wins the Republican primary, whether it’s me or Tillis, will have access to all the money he needs,” Tucker said. “Our fundraising is focused totally on the primary.”
For his part, Tillis is preparing for the primary and beyond: He will be joined by Vice President Mike Pence at a Greensboro fundraiser on May 22.