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Here's what matters to U.S. Senate candidates Cal Cunningham and Thom Tillis


Cal Cunningham (left) and Thom Tillis (right) are candidates for state senator. Photos courtesy of Cunningham and Tillis.

The November election is coming up, so The Daily Tar Heel is breaking down every state and local office on the ballot, from governor to county commissioner. Here, we broke down who the North Carolina candidates are for U.S. Senate. 

The race for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat hit national headlines Friday when a source leaked Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham’s extramarital romantic texts just three hours after Republican incumbent Thom Tillis tested positive for COVID-19 — but both candidates say their platforms remain priorities heading into the election. 

Thom Tillis, a one-term Republican incumbent from Huntersville, defeated Democrat Kay Hagan for his current seat following a career in business and a term as speaker of the N.C. House from 2011-2014. 

Tillis, who worked his way through college over 18 years and eventually became a partner at IBM, said over email that his upbringing gives him understanding of the difficulty of embarking on career paths during a time of widespread financial instability. 

“I understand what it’s like to have to work your way up with limited opportunities and that’s why I want to be a voice for the next generation of North Carolinians,” Tillis said.

Cal Cunningham, Tillis’ Democratic challenger, is a Lexington native who received an undergraduate and law degree from UNC.

Cunningham was elected to one term as a state senator at age 27, representing Davidson, Iredell and Rowan counties, and went on to serve three active duty terms in the U.S. Army following the 9/11 attacks. 

According to his campaign’s website, Cunningham currently works as the leader of an environmental services company. He continues to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel.

In a survey conducted by the DTH, UNC students said the issues they care about most are health care, student debt, civil rights, wages/labor, the environment and LGBTQ+ rights and policies. Here's where both candidates stand on some of these issues. 


In Tillis’ COVID-19 relief plan, he outlined priorities for combatting COVID-19, including supporting personal protective equipment supply chains and medical research. Tillis voted in favor of the Federal CARES Act, which allocated over $6 billion in total to the state. 

Cunningham released a COVID-19 relief plan in May, in which he cited creating jobs, expanding testing and contact tracing and creating safety nets for those economically hurt by the pandemic as top priorities.

“That includes building on the Affordable Care Act, expanding Medicaid, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, extending and expanding unemployment benefits and supporting families by providing workers with paid sick and family leave, and making childcare widely available and affordable,” Cunningham said via an email statement. 


Although neither candidate supports the proposed Green New Deal, both said that climate change and environmental policy are priorities.

In an email statement to the DTH, Tillis wrote that he is a longtime supporter of the solar energy industry, citing his negotiation of a renewable portfolio standard, which required North Carolina to obtain a certain percentage of its energy from solar or wind sources, during his term as N.C. Speaker. 

Cunningham also referenced solar as a North Carolina clean energy priority. He said climate change is one of the most urgent issues, and the state should invest in clean energy research.

“We need to invest in a clean energy economy that will create good-paying jobs, reduce carbon pollution and make North Carolina a leader,” Cunningham said. 


Both candidates said economic recovery from COVID-19 is a priority.

Tillis said besides defeating COVID-19, rebuilding the nation's economy is his top priority. 

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“The path forward for our economic recovery is through generating opportunities, providing lower taxes and being smart with federal investments,” Tillis said. 

Cunningham said he supports raising the minimum wage, giving displaced workers access to education training through state community colleges and providing resources for small businesses, schools and the postal service.

“The only economy that truly works is an economy that generates opportunities for everyone,” Cunningham said. “I will fight for a more equitable economy and living wage in every community.”


@DTHCityState |