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Building the ‘Tillis is offensive” Meme


Democratic Senator Kay Hagan’s campaign is highlighting her Republican challenger’s comments about “traditional” North Carolina voters in building a narrative that Thom Tillis is divisive and offensive.

The latest addition for this meme came from an old appearance Tillis made on a Charlotte public television show:

Williams: 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.

The Left claims this is the “dog whistle” of racism to which conservatives respond. (I’m not clear how they are able to actually hear this dog whistle if it’s only tuned to the ear of racists.)

I understood his comments to be about traditional GOP voters – who are, in fact, white. But his campaign said he was talking about non-transplant voters.

“Traditional” North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations,” Tillis campaign Communications Director Daniel Keylin told TPM. “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.”

OK… obviously, he is NOT talking about transplants vs. native Tar Heels. He was talking about growing the GOP voter base – which has been (and continues to be) predominantly white folks.

This isn’t a particularly controversial idea, either. Democrats have been helpfully advising the GOP to appeal to more minority groups or risk never winning another national election.

But when Tillis says the same thing, it’s racisty and insensitive.

Deserving pay raises?

But there was a more egregious distortion that Tillis’ camp played no role in promulgating.

Here is another clip the Hagan campaign used in its e-mail blasting Tillis’ “traditional” comment:


This came from the Citizen-Times story and is patently false.

What Tillis said was:

“Barack Obama and Kay Hagan think that the minimum wage needs to be the same in the mountains of North Carolina and in the city of Boston – it makes no sense to me. It’s a decision that needs to be made closest to – with the people closest to the situation. And I think that’s state legislatures.”

No where does Tillis say folks in Western NC deserve to be paid less than residents of Boston.

He’s talking about the cost of living – and he’s right.

A comparison of Buncombe County and Suffolk County (where Boston is the county seat) proves the point.

Per Capita Income

Buncombe County:    $25,665
Suffolk County:         $32,034
United States:            $27,915

Cost of Living

Buncome County:      93.2
Suffolk County:       138.7
United States:          100

Tillis’ point is that the cost of living in Western NC is lower than Boston, so federally mandating a similar minimum wage in both locations makes no economic or logical sense.

The Citizen-Times has now re-framed his position to characterize it as an insult to residents in WNC. This, in turn, has allowed the Hagan campaign to craft its narrative – which is then promulgated by other media.

It’s sloppy, at best, and dishonest, at worst.

Tillis never said WNC deserves less pay, or anything close to it.

As Clint Eastwood said… “Deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it.”

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