Politicos have been tracking the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina like a pack of wild animals. And I don't blame them.
Between Kay Hagan's increasingly fragile seat and AFP's aggressive campaign to give her the boot, it's exciting as hell. The Republican primary race is becoming equally seductive as the two main candidates sprint forward in dead heat, both enthusiastic to win an election with national implications.
You can't turn on the television for three seconds without hearing about Hagan's Obamacare vote. She complains that Charles Koch is trying to infiltrate North Carolina, but, really, we stopped caring about her opinion when 473,000 of our insurance policies were cancelled. "HaganCare" is the most popular name for her deciding vote on the legislation, but many people are surprised to learn that we have another name for it, too: "Thom TillisCare."
Congratulate Thom Tillis, one of the two main candidates in the Republican primary race, whose political career as speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives has left, as you can imagine, much to be desired. (See the details here.) When he's not handing out $30,000 pay raises to new staffers, gifting $19,000 severance packages to disgraced ones, and donating $250,000 to his own Senate campaign -- well, Tillis is doing the president's work.
In May 2011, a single year after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Tillis backed the implementation of a state healthcare exchange. He utilized his power as speaker to bring the insurance bill to the floor, aiming to create an exchange in North Carolina similar to those created by federal statutes. But the Senate quickly killed the potential legislation and its promise to "facilitate the purchase and role of qualified health plans in the individual and small employer market by providing education, outreach, and technical assistance." (The ACA also called for establishing "qualified health plans" and for providing "technical assistance to facilitate participating in shop exchanges.")
That should have been our first clue. The second came soon afterward.
Immediately after filing official candidacy papers in February, Tillis announced his support for the 'Obamacare alternative' put forward by Senator Richard Burr, who is famously unpopular in conservative circles for saying that defunding the ACA is the "dumbest idea [he's] ever heard." Tillis praised the plan for embracing the "things that Obamacare seems to have right," a stance that Hagan quoted approvingly in a recent campaign release.
You know something's a little off with a Republican candidate when one of the most liberal senators in the United States wants to join hands for health care. It's no wonder so many North Carolinians joke that Tillis should be running in the Democratic primary.
The final nail in the coffin -- though I'm confident it won't really be the last -- appeared when Tillis went on the radio for a chat about his candidacy. Most conservatives would have started the conversation by asking whether it's a good idea to force people to purchase health insurance if they don't want it. Others would have chastised the Supreme Court for claiming the government's authority to "lay and collect taxes" validates the individual mandate penalty.
Instead, Tillis took the regulatory route. He applauded the ACA as a "great idea" but acquiesced that it simply "can't be paid for" at the moment. Tea Partiers were taken aback by the stance, of course, because it rests entirely on policy analysts at the Congressional Budget Office. A quick glance at the agency's initial cost projections for Social Security and Medicare will demonstrate why it's important take these (often volatile) numbers with a grain of salt. 'Affordable' can become 'unsustainable' with even the slightest shift in economic realities, and endorsing legislation dependent upon these unforeseeable circumstances is not only not conservative but also completely irrational.
North Carolinians were so upset with Tillis' comments that the newest report from Public Policy Polling found 78 percent of Republican primary voters disagree with his stance on Obamacare. The speaker is now losing to Kay Hagan by more than any other candidate in his party, including Greg Brannon, the Tea Party favorite for the Republican nomination, who is currently neck and neck with the incumbent senator.
Some voters are attracted to principles. Others are attracted to electability. Luckily for Hagan's campaign, Tillis doesn't seem to have either.
He recently favorited a tweet by Brannon's political director criticizing the speaker for not supporting a full repeal of the ACA. I'll be attributing this to a Freudian slip, even if it is just an intern with a case of the clicky fingers.